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Surrey wants temporary slot machines removed

The 150 slot machines at Newton Square Bingo Hall have become a flash-point in concerns about public safety and quality of life in the neighbourhood.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

The city of Surrey is pushing for the removal of 150 slot machines from Newton Square Bingo Hall, saying the owner of the property is not likely to meet deadlines that would allow the machines to stay.

On Monday, council unanimously passed a motion brought forward by Mayor Dianne Watts that asks staff to review the project and recommends asking B.C. Lottery Corp. to remove the machines, which were installed on a conditional basis in 2012 and have become a flash-point in concerns about public safety and quality of life in the neighbourhood.

The slot machines were supposed to be temporary while talks were under way for a proposed South Surrey casino. The project was rejected last year. Now, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment – which owns Newton Square and had contemplated moving the slot machines to the casino had it been approved – is expected to do a $20-million overhaul of the Newton site.

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"There were some specific timelines in terms of construction starts and completion," Ms. Watts said on Tuesday. "Because construction has not yet started on Phase One or Phase Two, those temporary slots need to be removed."

The mall is in a neighbourhood that came under an unwelcome spotlight after Julie Paskall was attacked and beaten in a recreation centre parking lot on Dec. 29 and died of her injuries two days later.

Ms. Paskall's death brought an outpouring of concern from residents and business owners about crime, drug dealing and other issues in the neighbourhood, including increased gambling opportunities.

A spokeswoman for Gateway said permitting issues with the city have caused delays.

"We are diligently pursuing this redevelopment, but with these permits still pending, we are kind of in a holding pattern," Gateway spokeswoman Tanya Gabara said. "We do own Newton Square mall and we are committed to redeveloping the whole mall."

Gateway was not aware its proposal would be on the agenda at Monday's council meeting and hopes it can work with the city to get negotiations back on track, Ms. Gabara said.

"Through this [staff] report, we are encouraged to work with the city to hopefully have some really positive and constructive dialogue that will help us proceed to construction as fast as possible," she said. "We are trying to move forward with this plan that would include our community gaming centre and we are still in that process with the city."

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Surrey is "well within our rights" to ask for removal of the slot machines, Councillor Barinder Rasode said on Tuesday.

"I have been a strong advocate of having them removed from Newton," Ms. Rasode said, adding that the temporary slots did not mesh with a city gaming policy that requires gambling operations to be with other amenities such as a theatre or hotel.

"Newton never had that," Ms. Rasode said.

Asked if her motion reflects changing attitudes toward gambling on behalf of the city, Ms. Watts said it had more to do with the location of the slot machines.

"I don't think there is a move to eradicate slot machines," she said, adding that Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino has them. "What we do want to do is make sure they are in the appropriate areas...there are better places for it."

In Vancouver, Paragon Gaming is working on issues related to its conditional approval by the city's development permit board in December, spokeswoman Tamara Hicks said Tuesday in an e-mail.

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Paragon Gaming has proposed a $535-million urban resort with a casino, hotels and other amenities.

The city's development permit board approved the project in December with conditions that would require management to address problem gambling, alcohol use and other related health concerns raised in a 2013 report.

The urban resort project is to be overseen by Michael Graydon, who resigned as president and CEO of BCLC in January and in February was named president of Paragon affiliate PV Hospitality.

Mr. Graydon's move to Paragon, a BCLC contractor, resulted in questions about a potential conflict of interest.

Last month, provincial finance minister Mike DeJong ordered a review of Mr. Graydon's hiring to look at those concerns. That review is under way.

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