Stakes high as Surrey business leaders back proposed casino

Stakes high as Surrey business leaders back proposed casino

By Sam Cooper, The Province December 4, 2012
Stakes high as Surrey business leaders back proposed casino

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Gateway casino and resort for south Surrey.

Photograph by: Handout , Gateway

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.”

Here in Richmond we went through a similar scenario several years ago. They called it expanded gambling….which was coded words for slot machines. Many in the community protested this and showed up in Council chambers to speak directly to Council. One person from the Asian Community  made a very good speech. He discussed the anticipated gross revenue , which at the time was estimated to be $100 miIlion. He said that $100 Million would be sourced from discretionary income. He went on to say that the $100 Million would do the community better good by supporting local businesses. Or, that is $100 Million less to spend on local businesses. Yet these same businesses are continually ambushed by higher taxes, so double jeopardy?
Richmond Council seemed ambushed by the negative response, and then voted not to proceed with expanded gambling. However one senior Councillor was really pissed – off….ranting about all the revenue we, the City of Richmond ,would lose blah blah blah.
However, Richmond Council did a 180 – degree turn shortly after and approved expanded gambling, which became the RiverRock Casino. The City’s share of the casino revenue shot up from approx. $2 Million to $10 Million. 
IMHO : The timelines were no no sooner had the Casino been approved than we won the Olympic Oval… which $5 Million of the City’s share of the casino revenue was dedicated annually  to the Olympic Oval for 10 years, or so far $50 Million .  This casino revenue is spent at the sole discretion of Council. So, our Council pissed it down the rathole by building the Olympic Oval, which will continue to suck up City funds .
So….rather than dedicating these casino revenue funds into  a rainy day account and use to buffer tax increases etc., it actually backfires…not only creating a white elephant, but one that continues to suck even MORE  taxes to maintain….like creating a tumour and keeping it alive .
So I would “advise” ….no actually WARN the citizens of Surrey  about this so called “free money”. Anytime Gov’t sees extra money it will find a way to piss it away on some other frivolous project , long term responsibility is not in their political programing. Regardless of their protests , rest assured there   will be loan sharking, money laundering and likely murders. Good Luck Surrey….I would vote NO.
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