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Advisers urge Vancouver casino as way to keep gamblers close

Slot machines at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009. John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver gamblers already spend at least $325-million a year in casinos but they appear to spend most of that money at casinos outside their own city, according to an internal report from B.C. Lottery Corporation.

However, an expanded Vancouver casino would likely bring some of those gamblers back into the city. It would draw in some people from the region's highest-spending zone, people from Richmond. And it would help boost gaming to its full market potential of $1.3-billion a year spent in local casinos by 2014, said the report by HLT Advisory.

"Overall, HLT estimates that Edgewater has a total win potential of $231.1-million, about 92 per cent of this total is expected to come from the market-area residents," according to the report.

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The HLT report was commissioned by the corporation in 2009 to check on the ambitious projections for future revenue that Paragon Gaming claimed was possible as it was bidding to build an expanded casino next to BC Place.

The report was more cautious on several fronts than Paragon's consultant reports had been. It concluded that Paragon's Edgewater casino could increase its revenue from the current level of $120-million to about $230-million, compared to Paragon's projection of $230-million to $275-million. That would include $18-million from hotel visitors who don't go to the casino now.

HLT didn't attempt to figure out the possible revenue from new offshore visitors, which Paragon has pegged at possibly $100-million, if it can get a change in B.C. regulations to permit wire transfers directly to casinos.

And HLT calculated that the potential market for casino spending in the Lower Mainland by 2014 would be $1.3-billion, not the $1.47-billion Paragon's consultants estimated in one report, or the $1.39-billion in another. HLT estimated that current casinos already capture 86 per cent of the potential market.

The report also warned that any estimates depended on Paragon expanding the size of its current casino, moving to a spot attached to BC Place, and running a good marketing campaign.

The Vancouver public hearings on the contentious casino expansion, which has attracted hundreds of speakers, are scheduled to resume Saturday.

Although several sections of the report, released to The Globe and Mail under B.C. Freedom of Information rules, have been excised - specifically information on current revenues coming from each municipality to Edgewater - there are still some statistics in the report that indicate how the river of gambling money flows in different parts of the region.

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The report, which used data that the lottery corporation supplied from its players who register for BC Gold cards, indicates Vancouver residents were projected to spend $325-million in 2009 in Lower Mainland casinos. Since Edgewater only had revenues of $120-million that same year, not all of it from Vancouverites, that means city residents are spending heavily elsewhere.

HLT calculated that by 2014, Vancouver residents' total spending on gambling would increase to $355-million.

But a new, expanded Edgewater would capture $135-million of the money just from local residents, $20-million from Richmond gamblers, and about $60-million from people in the rest of the region.

Having a successful casino nearby appears to correlate directly with higher spending by immediate locals.

In Richmond, for example, the average take per adult was calculated to reach $1,080 by 2014, the highest in the region, while the average for the region as a whole was $638, The province's most successful casino, River Rock, is in Richmond.

East Vancouver, the next highest, is close to three casinos, while northwest Burnaby and Coquitlam, each of which houses a casino, ranks much higher than the average.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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