Vancouver Not Vegas! Coalition supporters say no to casino expansion

Hundreds of advocates for the Vancouver Not Vegas! Coalition, many showing their support by holding LED candles or NO CASINO posters, congregated in front of Vancouver City Hall Monday evening to say no to the proposed relocation and expansion of Edgewater Casino.

The coalition has collected over 2,800 online signatures in a petition against the $500 million project that would see the construction of a two-building hotel, casino and entertainment mega-complex across from BC Place, housing 1,500 slot machines and 150 gambling tables.

The crowd started to gather on the city hall steps about an hour before the 7:30 p.m. city council public hearing, and was energized by a brief speech given by Sandy Garossino, former prosecutor and British Columbia Association for Charitable Gambling representative.

“This is where the decision is going to be made, and we are asking city council to say no to the expansion of gambling,” said Garossino, who believes a new casino would invite gangsters and money laundering.

Advocates broke into a chant of “no to casinos!” as she urged people to join the list of over 150 speakers already signed on to express their views on the casino that promoters have said will attract gamblers from a worldwide audience.

The hearing started with an announcement that there were 369 emails and letters received in opposition of the proposal, and 511 in support. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson greeted the overflowing audience and said there was a final tally of 163 speakers, some of which would have to wait until the following day for their turn to take the podium.

Key participants on Monday were Brent MacGregor and David Podmore from BC Pavilion Corporation, the Crown company also known as PavCo that manages BC Place Stadium. Diana Bennett, CEO of Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming, also spoke on behalf of the company that owns Edgewater and is behind the proposed expansion.

“The area around BC Place was always designated as an entertainment area,” said Podmore, chairman of PavCo.

Podmore said he wasn’t afraid of the proposal, and doesn’t think the new casino will have any of the negative impact that Vancouver residents have been talking about. He dismissed the myth that sports-goers will have to walk through the new casino to get to their seats.

“It is easy to be a critic, but hard to be a proponent,” said Podmore.

The crowd booed loudly.

Issues brought to the table at council include rezoning land (such as portions of Pacific Boulevard and Terry Fox Way), urban and landscape design (treatment of sidewalks and planting of trees), engineering concerns (traffic management plans), and sustainability (energy consumption and waste management).

PavCo won the bid in 2009 to redevelop the land, and signed a 70-year lease pending council approval that included securing $350 million in financing. Michael Graydon, president of the B.C. Lottery Corp. said the expansion is expected to attract up to 15,000 weekly gamblers compared to 6,000 who frequent the current casino.

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