(File photo)

Casino license leaving Newton a ‘loss of potential’ says BIA

‘We lost another chip to play with, another option,’ says Newton BIA director

SURREY — The move to relocate Newton’s gaming facility to South Delta is being decried as yet another loss for Surrey.

“We could’ve done something with that,” Newton BIA director Philip Aguirre told the Now-Leader. “We lost another chip to play with, another option. We’re very passive in Surrey in the sense that we want to do things but we’re just not aggressively going after those resources, that infrastructure, for the good or the bad.”

The B.C. Lottery Corporation announced on Thursday (Sept. 7) that Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd. is set to move the Newton Community Gaming Centre to the Delta Town and Country Inn after the site received preliminary approval.

Calling it a “loss of potential” for his community, Aguirre said he had hoped the property that housed the gaming facility at the corner of 72nd Avenue and King George Boulevard would be revitalized.

“Now that it’s off the table, what are the other options? What is the plan for Newton? Is it to continue to wait for LRT? Which now is even murkier because of the removal of the tolls. So LRT will probably be delayed even more,” he said.

“We’ve all been promised revitalization because of LRT, so what’s plan B?

“I link this to the Vancouver Giants’ relocation to Langley as another kind of example. Langley went after that and they got it. Delta went after the gaming license and they got it, and they’re going to turn it into a positive….. We could’ve used that (gaming) asset, we could’ve made it a positive.”

Aguirre wants to see a better overall plan for Newton.

“The city talks about this cultural corridor in Newton, and gaming fits into that, it’s entertainment… they talk about Newton being a cultural corridor but what connects it? Is it the cultural centre? The Bell Performing Arts Centre? Bear Creek Park? There’s no real cultural scene here other than those three facilities.”

Councillor Tom Gill, who is currently acting Surrey mayor, said there’s a “significant group out there that does not believe or agree with gaming.”

He recalled the marathon public hearing of 2013, in which Surrey council shot down a South Surrey casino proposal.

Gill voted in favour of that proposal, and said he did so because he saw the benefit in “leveraging the opportunity” in terms of other components of the application, including a high-end hotel and convention centre.

”It’s one of those rare amenities in the community that some people really do appreciate and have a significant interest in, and there are others that think this kind of amenity brings problems to the community. I’m torn, based upon that last public hearing,” he said.

“I hate to use the terminology, but sometimes some of the good comes with the bad,” he said.

Gill stopped short of agreeing with Aguirre that the gaming license move was a loss for Surrey, and said the Newton gaming site was “somewhat problematic.”

“Everything has to be located in the right space for the right clientele,” he added. “If it’s in the right location and it draws the right amenities, it has incredible power. If it’s not to the size, which would be the current example (in Newton), it doens’t bring that magnitude of excitement and revenues.”

Gill said he thinks LRT is going to bring “significant excitement” to the city and will be a “catalyst” to a cultural shift in the city, including Newton.

“Arts, entertainment, culture, it’s all a vital piece. If you look at all the vibrant cities in North America, particularly older established cities, they all have restaurants, entertainment, transportation all combined. One item can’t stand alone and I think to be successful, you need many of those elements and I’m hopeful with transportation becoming more robust that we’ll see exactly that.”

TOWN & COUNTRY ‘ONLY SUITABLE SITE’

BCLC declared Delta its preferred location for a new gambling and entertainment facility south of the Fraser in November of 2016.

Delta submitted a non-binding expression of interest for the gaming license. The Corporation suggested the 11-acre Delta Town & Country Inn was the only location in Delta that would support a gaming facility, due to its distance from residential neighbourhoods and its accessibility through major roads like Highway 99 and Highway 17A.

Though, BCLC rejected the Town & Country Inn because of its distance from the Surrey market and its proximity to the River Rock Casino in Richmond. Instead, the BCLC suggested the casino be located east of Highway 91, south of Highway 17, west of King George Boulevard or north of Highway 10.

“We made this decision after getting clear feedback from Delta that the only suitable site on which it would consider a gambling and entertainment facility at this time is the Town & Country Inn,” CLC spokesperson Doug Cheng said.

The new facility is expected to generate between $25 million and $50 million in revenue, according to a BCLC background document. The host local government receives 10 per cent of the net gaming income, meaning Delta could be seeing between $1.5 million and $3 million go back into the municipality.

Gateway Casinos is now responsible for developing a proposal detailing the size, scope and amenities of the gambling and entertainment facility. If BCLC approves the facility proposal, it will be submitted to the Corporation of Delta for consideration.

A CONTROVERSIAL HISTORY OF GAMING IN SURREY

Gaming in Surrey has been met with much controversy and has been around the council table for some time.

The City of Surrey shot down a request for a South Surrey casino in a 4-5 vote in January, 2013, with then-mayor Dianne Watts being the deciding vote. Before that, in 2009, council faced another controversial vote. Newton residents pressured council to deny a gaming proposal, while local non-profits that benefit from gaming wanted it passed.

In the end, the plan was approved by a narrow 5-4 vote.

The Newton site didn’t meet the city’s own gaming policy, which says any Surrey casino must be a component of a “cluster” of tourism facilities.

“Shortly after that, the provincial rules were changed and we were left having made that decision,” Watts said at the time, adding there was also a promise in 2009 to redevelop the site.

”And that just has not come to fruition. It’s not appropriate,” Watts said. “Most certainly, those temporary slot machines should be removed.”

In 2014, former Surrey councillor Barinder Rasode, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in the last civic election, said the city had a history of “being let down by gaming companies.”

“Fraser Downs was also supposed to have put in a hotel and convention centre, but once they got the slot machines, that no longer moved forward,” she said at the time. “I think that Surrey has a history of being let down by gaming companies and I think that we now need to say that previous history has demonstrated that fulfilling of development around slot machines and gaming hasn’t reaped any rewards for the community benefit.”

Doug Elford of the Newton Community Association opposes gaming projects in the community. In 2014, Elford said the neighbourhood “doesn’t want the casino there” and that it’s “not really a good fit for the community.”

But Newton’s controversial history with gaming goes back even farther than that.

In 1998, BCLC installed 191 slot machines in a local charity gaming hall after the provincial NDP government introduced expanded gambling in the province.

Then-mayor Doug McCallum and his Surrey Electors Team – which Watts was a member of at the time – put city staff to work to shut down the slots.

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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