Attitudes toward casinos soften over years

Lower Mainland cities that were once opposed to gaming are now home to large facilities

Gateway’s proposed casino/hotel complex for the Delta Town & Country Inn site in Ladner has begun winding its way through the civic approval process.

If approved, Gateway hopes to begin construction this fall with the complex open for business by October 2020. Gateway’s application includes a casino with up to 600 slot machines and 24 gaming tables

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The ball started rolling on Delta potentially having a casino over a year ago when the B.C. Lottery Corporation invited cities to submit expressions of interest. Both Delta and the Tsawwassen First Nation expressed interest, with Delta chosen earlier this year by the lottery corporation.

It’s a far cry from the city’s attitude toward gambling in the late 1990s when it expressed opposition to a proposed destination casino and bingo facility at the TFN, which would have partnered with Lady Luck Entertainment.

At the time, Coun. Bruce McDonald, who’s still on council, said council had always unanimously opposed the TFN’s plans to build a casino.

Council said it wouldn’t extend municipal services to any casino.

In 1996, the NDP government had announced its expanded gambling initiative that called for destination casinos, slot machines and increased bet limits at charity casinos.

At that time, Delta Coun. Krista Engelland responded, “‘The momentum in Delta has been ‘no’ to gambling. We’re still waiting for staff to bring back a bylaw amendment prohibiting Club Keno.’’

Other city councils at the time also didn’t like the idea of expanded gaming, including Coquitlam and Richmond.

Lou Sekora, who was Coquitlam’s mayor at the time, said, ‘’I’m totally opposed to any further expansion of gambling. I was a leader on this when they were talking about video lottery terminals, and I will continue to be a leader.’’

In the late 1990s, Richmond council refused to allow Great Canadian Casino Company to relocate its tiny casino in the city to the much larger confines of the empty Bridgeport Market site.

“The community and council is concerned that there not be an expansion of gaming activities in Richmond and we want a limit placed on the size of the proposed casino,’’ said Greg Halsey-Brandt, Richmond’s mayor at the time.

Both Coquitlam and Richmond soon relented and large casinos have been a fact of life in those cities as well as several others in the region.

Bucking the trend, somewhat, three years ago was Surrey, which already has two gaming facilities. The city would have been home to a much larger casino planned by Gateway, which wanted to shift its gambling licence from the Newton Bingo Hall to a proposed $100-million casino resort.

Surrey council defeated the application, a move that later prompted BCLC, which was looking to expand gaming south of the Fraser and in the North Shore, to ask cities for expressions of interests. That’s the process that saw Delta eventually selected.

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