ELECTION: Casi-no or casi-yes? Surrey mayoral candidates talk casinos

SURREY — Looking back at late 2012 and early 2013, the hot topic in Surrey was a controversial casino and entertainment complex planned for South Surrey.

Proposed by Gateway Casinos, the $100-million development would have been located on a 25-acre property at 168th Street and 10th Avenue and featured a 190-room hotel, a 60,000 square-foot gaming floor and a 27,000 square-foot convention centre. The project would have also netted the City of Surrey about $3 million annually in gaming revenue, but after a massive public outcry over the proposal and a divisive public hearing session that totalled more than 13 hours, was narrowly defeated by council in a late-night five-to-four vote.

While crime, safety and transportation continue to be key issues in the 2014 civic election, the Now reached out to the mayoral candidates to see what they would do if the South Surrey casino, or any other casino application, came before them.

Independent Vikram Bajwa was opposed to the South Surrey casino application at its 168th Street and 10th avenue location, but said any other applications he receives would be put to a citywide referendum.

“I would let the people decide,” he noted. “This kind of issue needs to let all of the residents make the decision.”

First-time independent candidate John Edwards said he was in favour of the South Surrey casino due to the economic factor and would entertain other such applications.

“I was in favour of it because when I looked at he plan, the number of jobs and the economic activity, I thought it was a very good idea,” he said, adding he would look at any other applications with an open mind. “I think you have to look at the bigger picture and say we can’t very well deny people the right to go to a casino and spend their money if that’s what they want to do. We have a social responsibility as a city to not deny the fact that people want a casino, but we need to make sure those people who are problem gamblers have the support they need.”

Surrey residents came out in the hundreds to speak before council about the proposed South Surrey casino in January 2013.  (Photo By Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun)

Surrey First’s mayoral candidate Linda Hepner said she would not be voting in favour of any more casino proposals. Hepner voted in favour of the proposed South Surrey casino back in January 2013, which was defeated by a deciding vote cast by Mayor Dianne Watts.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I will not revisit a casino application in that location,” she said. “We have a powerful and functioning operation with Fraser Downs and I would consider that Surrey’s location for a casino. I’m not doing that again.”

Former mayor Doug McCallum, leading the Safe Surrey Coalition, said he would be opposed to any future casino or gaming applications brought before council, stating his opposition to gambling in the city.

“I won’t support it, I’ve never supported expanding the gambling in Surrey,” he said. “I was very vocal against gambling, I’m not a supporter of gambling and would not support it at all.”

Likewise, One Surrey’s Barinder Rasode said she would also not support any future expanded gambling opportunities in Surrey. Rasode also reiterated that she voted in favour of the South Surrey casino in order to have Gateway’s gaming licence moved from the slot machine and bingo hall in Newton to South Surrey.

"I did not support the expanding of the slot machines in Newton. I did not want a licence to come to Surrey and then we had the challenge of having the licence in Newton and my reason for supporting the South Surrey application was the South Surrey application actually met the city’s gaming policy and I believed that moving the licence out of Newton would be good as it was placed in a very vulnerable community," she said. "We fought really hard in the community to have that site shut down."

Long-time council watcher and independent mayoral candidate Grant Rice said he would definitely be opposed to any casino or gaming applications coming his way, and that he was actually involved in the community fight against the casino back in 2012 and 2013.

“I was heavily involved in fighting that casino even though I live in the north,” he said. “The social ills that come with gaming are my sore point. I would make sure we don’t expand gaming at all and would revisit the gaming policy for the City of Surrey.”

Finally first-time mayoral candidate John Wolanksi, said his focus has always been social issues and as such, would be against any more gambling coming to Surrey.

“I was at that (South Surrey casino) meeting and was one of the ones that spoke against it because of the effects it would have on the community to have another casino,” he said. “I know a lot of people that it would cause job losses. It’s really a saturation point, we have enough gambling and we don’t need anymore. I’m not against casinos, I’m not against development but we don’t need anything else in Surrey to put vulnerable people into dire financial straits.”

Twitter @Questionchris

cpoon@thenownewspaper.com

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