It’s Surrey’s longest public hearing, at least in the last 35 years, and perhaps ever.
A marathon meeting over a proposal for a casino and entertainment complex in South Surrey continues tomorrow night (Friday) at city hall.
On Monday, a crowd of more than 500 packed the hall over the issue, with 192 people registering to address council.
By 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, less than half had been heard, so council plans to hear from the remaining 120 people on Friday beginning at 7 p.m.
If the meeting continues at Monday’s pace, it will run until 5 a.m. Or it could be continued on a third night. Sign-up for speakers is now closed, so council will only hear from those who have a number from Monday night.
Former Surrey mayor Bob Bose, who sat on council from 1978 to 2011, said Wednesday he’s never seen a public hearing go on for this long.
The $100-million project has been highly contentious amongst local residents for the better part of a year.
It’s slated to include a 60,000-sq.-ft. gaming area, 200-room hotel and a 27,000-sq.-ft. convention and entertainment centre. The casino promises to bring in $3 million in revenue each year for Surrey as the host city.
The development is planned for an 18-acre parcel of land at 10 Avenue and 168 Street. Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Inc. is proposing to move its gaming licence from 7093 King George Blvd. to a yet-to-be-built facility on the land.
Surrey council zoned the South Surrey property for a casino two years ago, with little objection from the public.
However, that has changed significantly, with many area residents now opposed.
Semiahmoo First Nation council member Joanne Charles said she couldn’t support nor speak against the proposal, because the band wasn’t brought into the consultation process.
“We were not consulted… at any time,” Charles told council.
Susan Lindenberger said she felt misled by the information that has been presented to the public.
“We are all tired of listening to the half-truths spun by those who would foist this casino upon us,” Lindenberger said.
She also doesn’t buy into the romantic notion of a destination entertainment area, and instead sees “individuals pushing buttons over and over, chasing their losses.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said the casino and entertainment centre “can and will be a real destination.”
She said it’s high time Surrey had an entertainment complex of this magnitude.
“This is much more than a casino,” she said.
Others in favour of the project told council it’s time to grow into a big city and recognize the promising economic benefits and the jobs that will come with the entertainment complex.
The casino proposal requires the approval from the B.C. Lottery Corp. (BCLC), which has said it won’t move forward without the blessing of Surrey council.
Some opposed to the casino said they were worried about the amount of gaming addiction it would bring to the community.
Paul Smith, BCLC director of corporate responsibility, told Surrey council 4.6 per cent of B.C. residents have gambling problems.
He noted that six new casinos have been opened in the last decade, with no increase in the amount of problem gambling. He attributed that to several initiatives underway by BCLC, such as GameSense, a gambling assessment and counselling service run by the corporation.
The Newton property will close when the South Surrey location is ready, according to Jim Lightbody, BCLC’s vice-president of casino and community gaming .
The Newton site has been fraught with controversy since it was first proposed by Surrey council. It 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 long meeting, council passed the gaming expansion in Newton on a five-to-four vote, even though it contravened the city’s own gaming policy.
The company that won the rezoning later flipped the property to Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which is now at the forefront of the move south.
The promise of $25 million worth of improvements on the Newton property died with the change in ownership.
City councillors have said publicly they no longer want the Newton gaming facility.