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Non-profit groups say B.C. duped them over casino proceeds Add to ...

A coalition of non-profit groups is calling on Vancouver city council to delay approval of a downtown casino complex until the province agrees to steer more gambling revenue to charities and the arts.

"There are huge pressures on city council and on the city of Vancouver to get this thing signed, sealed and delivered so that Edgewater Casinos can break ground and get their mega-casino built in three years," Susan Marsden, president of the British Columbia Association for Charitable Gaming, told reporters on Thursday outside City Hall.

"And we're saying to the city of Vancouver that we want the timetable for this whole process to be governed by the interests of the people of British Columbia and the interests of Vancouverites - not by the timetable of a casino."

Arts groups say the province has failed to live up to a 1999 agreement that 33 per cent of gambling revenues would go to charitable groups, and that charitable grants now account for only 10 per cent.

The city is to consider a rezoning proposal to allow a complex with two hotels, a casino, restaurants, a theatre and a cabaret.

The casino would be operated by Paragon Development, which runs the Edgewater Casino at its current site on False Creek.

The complex is linked to redevelopment plans for B.C. Place, where a retractable roof is scheduled to be complete by November, 2011, in time for the B.C. Lions to host the 99th Grey Cup game.

The Edgewater Casino at its current site has 65 games tables and 493 slot machines. The new casino would have up to 150 games tables and up to 1,500 slot machines.

Non-profit groups were battered by funding cutbacks last year and are saying they were duped into supporting expanded gaming in the province by the promise of a significant share of the proceeds.

Today's government, which came to power in 2001, is not bound by the 1999 pact on which the coalition is basing its demands, said provincial Housing Minister Rich Coleman, who is responsible for gambling and the BC Lottery Corp.

"It was actually a letter of understanding, it wasn't an agreement. It was back in 1999," Mr. Coleman said. "Since then, we have redone the Gaming Control Act. The government changed, the Gaming Control Act was changed … the reality is, we put money into other organizations that do good things that may not be run through a grant program."

The arts community has zeroed in on community gaming grants, but the province steers gambling revenue to community-oriented groups and causes in many other ways, Mr. Coleman said, citing the provincial government's purchase of rundown hotels in the Downtown Eastside for social housing as an example.

British Columbia Lottery Corp. reported net income of $1-billion in 2009-2010. The biggest chunk, $648.8-million, went into the government's "consolidated revenue" pot, which funds programs including health care and education. Gaming grants - the life blood of hundreds of non-profit groups ranging from daycares to theatre companies - amounted to $112.5-million.

Zoning decisions relating to the casino are up to the city and the province has no plans to interfere, he said.

The city does not have the authority to put conditions on where gambling profits would go, he added.

"If they did that, then we wouldn't proceed. Because obviously, we have other bills to pay," Mr. Coleman said, adding that gaming revenues finance health care, education and social programs.

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