Part of The Big Gamble, a series examining British Columbia’s complicated relationship with casinos.
The news that Vancouver’s casino would move and expand to something bigger crept in on little cat feet. In May, 2008, when then-premier Gordon Campbell announced he had negotiated a new site for the Vancouver Art Gallery on False Creek, plans for the area showed the existing Edgewater Casino moving to a spot beside BC Place, but not many noticed that.
Nor did many notice when the city, then led by mayor Sam Sullivan, held hearings that September to rezone the land near BC Place to allow casino use. Even when Mr. Campbell went on to announce in March, 2010, that an entertainment complex would be built, with a casino triple the size of the old Edgewater, the public still yawned.
The Vision Vancouver council wasn’t enthusiastic about Paragon’s proposed expanded casino, which appeared to be part of a complex deal organized much earlier to find money to help pay for BC Place renovations, but they felt obligated to go along. Minister Rich Coleman was pressing them, the union representing casino workers was lobbying hard and there was little opposition.
Then, in the fall of 2010, a Vancouver Not Vegas group sprang to life. It lined up prominent figures, from politicians to an ex-judge, to oppose it. Thousands signed a petition. By April, 2011, the casino expansion was dead after Vision councillors voted to deny it.
As in Vancouver, the proposal for a new casino started years before the final clash last month. Surrey had considered pitches from two different companies in January, 2010, for two casinos: one downtown, one in south Surrey. The downtown proposal was turned down. The south Surrey property was rezoned with provision for casino use.
A year and a half later, when the fully developed concept came to city hall, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts held a discussion with her council, asking: Here it is, does anyone have any serious problems with this? No one did, except Councillor Marvin Hunt, who indicated he wouldn’t be supporting any casino proposal.
In an unusual move, Surrey council – instead of staff – met regularly with Gateway Casinos and BC Lottery Corporation to review the plan. Councillors asked for several changes to ensure a high-quality complex. It looked to everyone like a go.
Then, again, a community group started mobilizing support through social media, gathering thousands of names in a petition, and marshalling high-school groups and neighbours to show up at council. To the shock of many, not least her own councillors, Ms. Watts cast a deciding vote on the split council at 3 a.m. She voted no.