Tanya Gabara

South Surrey casino claims more than 7,000 supporters

Casino opponents dispute level of support, citing city documents that indicate a much lower level of support.

A drive to muster public backing for Gateway Casinos and Entertainment’s proposed South Surrey casino, hotel and conference centre has generated more than 7,000 expressions of support – and some 70 per cent support from Surrey residents responding to requests for feedback – according to a company spokesperson.

Tanya Gabara said an estimated 2,800 Surrey residents expressed support for the proposal, while 4,900 non-Surrey residents also backed the $100-million complex at 10 Avenue and 168 Street.

The numbers were made public Friday, as Surrey council was preparing to consider the proposal at a Monday meeting, which took place after Peace Arch News’ deadline.

Responding by email to PAN’s request for a more detailed breakdown of figures, Gabara said the company estimates that – out of total feedback received for the project – 70 per cent of Surrey residents who responded supported it, while 86 per cent of people from other municipalities were in favour.

“A broad cross-section of the community sees opportunity and benefits in our proposal,” Gabara said in the original press release.

“We are very pleased that so many Surrey residents support this project, and we are also thrilled with the support the project is receiving from outside of Surrey.”

But Terry McNeice, president of the South Surrey Ratepayers Association – which has been campaigning against the proposal – said a City of Surrey planning and development report paints a different picture.

The report, presented to council on Monday, is based on feedback supplied to the city, from all sources, in which a Surrey civic address was provided.

An appendix mapping this feedback shows a city-wide response of 3,220 opposed and 635 (16 per cent) in support. Within a five-kilometre radius of the site, the city’s figures show support standing at only 124 (six per cent), with 2,045 in opposition.

McNeice also provided a copy of a support form he said he picked up at the Gateway’s Newton Square Bingo Hall last week which states “I understand (the project) will provide over $6 million in annual revenues to the city that it can put towards much-needed services in this municipality.”

In a PAN interview last week, Gabara clarified that a $6-million annual gaming revenue share – also cited in an economic benefits graphic for the project – actually  includes the $2.9 million already received annually by Surrey from Fraser Downs casino, operated by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. The support petition currently available online from Gateway’s project website states gaming revenue to the city is estimated to “increase from $2.9 million per year to $6 million per year” should the project be approved.

Gabara said 3,736 feedback forms expressing clear support for the project had been received by Gateway, of which 1,044 were from Surrey residents and 2,692 (72 per cent) were from outside Surrey.

Support has also been received in the form of correspondence and emails, Gabara told PAN, although she noted it is likely “the numbers won’t tally up because some individuals took multiple opportunities to demonstrate their support.”

McNeice said the ratepayers’ own survey had supplied “several thousand” address-specific responses to the project to the city. The group has also been working in co-operation with 10 Surrey-area churches that have expressed opposition to the establishment of a new casino, he said.

McNeice noted that the feedback form he picked up last week, while supplying check boxes for a general area of residence, states that supplying a specific address is “optional.”

“With all due respect,” he said, “the person signing that could be from just about anywhere.”

He said he doesn’t feel Gateway figures are a misrepresentation of support for the project.

“I can understand why they did it,” he said. “That’s their prerogative, if they want to include support from outside of Surrey.”

As part of its campaign, Gateway set up petition tables in the entrance foyers of its other operations; the Cascades Casino in Langley city, the Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby, the Starlight in New Westminster and the Newton Square Bingo Hall.

The company also added a click-to-support button to its promotional website at www.southsurreyentertainment.com

Some 975 pro-project petitions were received, Gabara said, of which 428 came from Surrey residents and 547 from outside the city. The petitions were to be submitted to the City of Surrey.

City officials last month postponed a November hearing on the project until Dec. 10, saying more time was needed to review input from area residents and other stakeholder groups.

The decision means the earliest that a public hearing on the matter could be held is Jan. 14, the date of the next regular council meeting.

Meanwhile, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says she’s not surprised by word that Surrey’s estimated annual share of gaming revenues from the proposed casino/entertainment complex is closer to $3 million than the $6 million cited by Gateway and previously reported in the media.

Watts said Friday that her understanding of Surrey’s potential share has been based on Surrey staff figures, rather than information included on Gateway’s project website (www.southsurreyentertainment.com).

“We’d estimated it as somewhere between $3 million and $4 million,” Watts said.

Preliminary designs for the South Surrey project call for a 60,000-sq.-ft. gaming floor, 800-seat theatre, 27,000-sq.-ft. convention and entertainment zone, a 200-room, four-star hotel, four restaurants and three lounges.

– with files from Dan Ferguson

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