Stakes high as Surrey business leaders back proposed casino
Business leaders are urging politicians to approve a controversial $100-million South Surrey casino proposal, ramping up a debate that pits expectations of huge economic benefits against social impact concerns.
The South Surrey Entertainment Centre, a gaming, hotel and convention centre proposed by B.C. Lottery Corp. and Gateway Casinos, would pump $3-million in gaming revenue into city coffers every year and flood the city’s economy with cash, according to Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman.
Huberman and leaders from the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce and Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce held a joint press conference Tuesday pressing Surrey councillors to approve the proposal, which is slated for a pastoral 18-acre piece of land at 10th Avenue and 168th Street.
The business leaders made the case that Surrey can’t afford to let tens of millions in annual gaming spending, a convention centre, and big job creation dollars slip away.
Huberman said an assessment by a research firm hired by Gateway Casinos and B.C. Lottery Corp. claims about $100-million will be pumped into Surrey’s economy with jobs and entertainment spending “in the short term” if the casino is approved.
Surrey’s council will consider the proposal on Dec. 10 ahead of a public hearing in January.
“Right now our 1,900 business members, many of them are experiencing a soft economy,” Huberman said. “I think the city runs itself as a business, and they are in a good fiscal position, but I think having additional investment dollars is very important in this soft economy.”
Huberman added that with Surrey projected to be B.C.’s largest city within about 10 years, without a convention centre like the one proposed in the casino development, the city is currently turning big-spending conference groups away.
Outside the business press conference on Tuesday a small group of casino opponents from the South Surrey Ratepayers Association were barred from entering.
“Unfortunately they deemed us to be a demonstration group, but we were there for information,” association president Terry McNeice told The Province.
Another member, Phil Embley, said he doubts business claims that tens of millions in gaming spending are leaving Surrey for the United States each year, and he countered the argument that casino development will pump millions into the local economy.
Actually, local spending, much of it from lower income earners and pensioners, will be transferred to wealthy investors on the other side of the country, Embley suggested.
“This will be a giant sucking sound of money going out of Surrey, not coming in,” Embley said. “(Business groups) are claiming that this is expanding the economy, but this is not a destination casino. We are not going to have people flying in to South Surrey. It’s local money that is going to be thrown into some slot machines and swirled around, and then 20 per cent will go to (casino) investors.”
The association has organized several public forums recently in which angry local residents have raised concerns about crime, property value impacts and gambling addiction danger, especially for vulnerable seniors — a large demographic in the area.
Embley said he did his own door-to-door survey in his affluent Ocean Park neighbourhood of South Surrey, which is not close to the proposed casino site, and all but seven of 200 respondents opposed the casino.
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said she understands residents’ crime and property value concerns, but she doesn’t believe they are well-founded.
“I understand (the association’s) views, but actually we think this development, with the quality and elegance, will actually raise local property values,” Huberman said.
Huberman said she hasn’t seen stats from a social impact study concerning the South Surrey casino proposal, but she believes “there is no evidence of crime being elevated, as a result of a casino.”
She noted that after slot machines were added at Fraser Downs in Surrey’s Cloverdale area, expectations that prostitution, violence, and financial crime would follow, “have not transpired.”