Plans are afoot to move the Newton casino to a property in South Surrey, where it would be turned into a destination gaming complex, The Leader has learned.
The City of Surrey, Gateway Casinos and the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) have been in private discussions about moving the gaming licence from the Newton Bingo Country casino at 7093 King George Boulevard to a yet-to-be-built facility in South Surrey at 8 Avenue and 168 Street.
The Newton property was the subject of a highly contentious public hearing in 2009, when gaming critics were pitted against not-for-profit organizations, which rely heavily on gaming revenues.
After a marathon meeting, council passed the gaming expansion in Newton on a five-to-four vote, even though it contravened the city’s own gaming policy.
Making matters worse, the company that won the rezoning later flipped the property to Gateway Casinos and Entertainment.
The promise of $25 million worth of improvements on the property died with the change in ownership.
Three years later, the mall where the Newton casino is situated still lies in a state of disrepair.
Meanwhile the South Surrey location – currently undeveloped green space – is the planned site for a $180-million development, including a 200-suite hotel, 800-seat convention centre and casino.
The vast majority of people at a recent public hearing were in favour of the South Surrey development plan.
Mayor Dianne Watts confirmed Tuesday the city, BCLC and Gateway were in early discussions to move the gaming licence from Newton to the border location.
“We’re having discussions,” Watts said. “The landscape has changed, in Newton, from when that casino was first brought forward.”
The landscape Watts referred to is the diminishing revenues not-for-profit organizations now receive from gaming.
“If you’re asking me if I would be sad that it moved? No,” Watts told The Leader. “I just think that the Newton site was not appropriate, and I know that many of us struggled with that site, but supported it because the non-profits were (previously) getting the dollars.”
She said the city and proponents are just days into discussions, and noted a lot has to be ironed out regarding the plan.
The two abiding questions are: What are the specific plans for the South Surrey location, and what will happen to the rundown mall in Newton?
A spokesperson for BCLC said the South Surrey location has good potential for a casino.
“We have been looking at the Surrey area for some time and we know it’s a marketplace that presents opportunity based on its location in proximity to the border,” the spokesperson said, adding they have considering the Gateway proposal. “We have received a proposal from Gateway and we’re not in a position to discuss details at this time.”
Coun. Linda Hepner is happy with the potential for a gaming transfer to South Surrey.
“The south has been a location that actually is amenable to tourists, and I think it allows the kind of development in Newton that we’re looking for,” Hepner said. “Hopefully it will be revitalized just the way we want it.”
As for the South Surrey site, she said it holds a lot of promise.
“Now if we’re talking entertainment zone, pure and simple, the one in the south makes a lot more sense to me,” Hepner said.