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Vancouver casino project will have to help with harm reduction in return for development approval

A massive resort complex next to BC Place will be the new home of the Edgewater Casino.


Unusual conditions that Vancouver's development-permit board has imposed on a massive casino resort downtown are significant, the B.C. Lottery Corporation and casino opponents say.

The board approved the application for the flashy new resort next to BC Place on Monday night, but to get final approval, the developer must work with city planners and the chief medical officer of Vancouver Coastal Health to create a harm-reduction plan aimed at gambling addicts.

But no one knows exactly what exactly those conditions will produce in the end for the controversial $535-million project.

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Vancouver's general manager of planning, Brian Jackson, spelled out at an emotional permit-board hearing that the casino operators must review a recent report from Perry Kendall, B.C.'s medical health officer, on gambling addiction and come up with a response to the strategies identified as key inhibitors. Those include limiting hours of operation, the number of ATMs, and hours of liquor service, and other measures.

The complex will include two hotels, a conference centre, and retail, as well as the 72,000-square-foot casino space.

Many in the audience who spoke passionately about the destruction of lives, the crime, and the hideous architecture they believe the new resort will bring, had hoped the board would turn the issue back to council.

Instead, Mr. Jackson set out the conditions, which go far beyond what the board usually requires.

The board said three senior city staff will have to approve the hours of operation and liquor service for the facility, which will become the new home of the Edgewater Casino at Plaza of Nations.

The BCLC and a representative of Paragon, the Edgewater operator and one of the partners in the new resort, said they would have to confer to figure out the details of what that means.

Typically, the lottery corporation determines a casino's operating hours.

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Most casinos in Canada and the United States are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The exceptions are the more modest ones in the Maritimes and smaller Ontario towns.

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research in Nevada, said he had not heard of U.S. cities imposing such conditions.

(Although Mayor Gregor Robertson is calling Vancouver the first, Ottawa city council passed a similar motion related to a new casino in August.)

While many of the approximately 100 people who came to the board meeting on Monday night were disappointed that the casino is going to be permitted, one opponent believes her group won a significant victory.

"I'm actually ecstatic to see the operating hours enter the conversation – that was a big win," said Sandy Garossino, a former Crown prosecutor who mobilized a campaign three years ago to prevent the Edgewater casino from being allowed to expand.

Mr. Robertson and his council, facing an election, said no to the expansion, even though it appeared the province was counting on the revenues to help pay for the $514-million BC Place renovations next door.

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At first, it appeared that the plan to move Edgewater to the new complex might evaporate.

But Paragon, with new partners Dundee Corporation and 360 Vox, returned earlier this year.

Opponents noted that the amount of floor space in the plan was double the Edgewater facility and worried it was an end run around the city's decision to hold the casino to 75 tables and 600 slots.

But Paragon spokeswoman Tamara Hicks said the Edgewater building, a leftover from Expo 86, was always too small.

"We will now have the ability to bring in a car or a boat [to the casino floor]," Ms. Hicks said.

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