New casino underscores reversal of Liberal promise to curb gambling

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Jonathan Fowlie

The revenue B.C. gambling casinos take in has nearly tripled since 2001, the year when the B.C. Liberals came to power, promising to scale down such activities throughout the province.

“Stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families,” said the Liberal party’s New Era document from its 2001 election campaign.

Since then, the revenue taken in by casinos in B. C has shot to $1.34 billion in 2008-09 from $492 million in 2000-01.

On Friday, the Liberal government announced yet another expansion.

Vancouver‘s Edgewater Casino will move into a new building next to BC Place Stadium, where it will double the number of slot machines and tables it has now, said the minister in charge, and eventually the numbers could triple.

Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman said the new Paragon Development Ltd. casino could have as many as 1,500 slot machines and 150 tables once it is fully up and running; the Edgewater now has 493 slots and 65 tables in operation.

“They’ve done a market study that says the size to market with two hotels and an entertainment complex attached to a major venue like BC Place, with restaurants and all that, we think this is the size it should be,” Coleman said.

“Basically, you’re not adding a casino to Vancouver as much as you’re letting it modernize.”

It’s a far cry from what now Kevin Krueger, now the minister of tourism, culture and the arts, said in 1997, when the Liberals were in opposition.

“Women in British Columbia will die because of gambling expansion; that’s the prediction of our experts at UBC,” Krueger said during a debate in the legislature.

“Some 37 per cent of the spouses of pathological gamblers abuse their children. So children may die as a result of gambling expansion, and their blood will be on the heads of the government that expanded gambling and of the MLAs who voted for it,” he said.

“This is a serious, serious issue.”

New Democratic Party critic Shane Simpson said he is in favour of moving to larger casinos from smaller ones, mostly because it encourages people to have dinner and see a show in addition to gambling, while people go to the smaller venues just to gamble.

But Simpson was highly critical of the Liberal expansion of gambling since taking power.

“There’s been a serious expansion of gambling under the Liberals and they’ve done it in a way that I think has been pretty hypocritical,” he said.

“When you consider the comments of the premier and Mr. Krueger and others in the 1990s, where they couldn’t have been more outraged about the notion of expansion of gambling in those years, of course now they can’t embrace it fast enough because of the money it makes.”

Since 2001, the number of casinos in B.C. has stayed roughly the same, but the size of the establishments has grown astronomically.

In 2000-01, there were 2,399 slot machines and 392 gambling tables in B.C. In 2008-09, the numbers had swelled to 8,818 slot machines and 485 tables.

Coleman said Friday the changes were needed to modernize the industry.

“I don’t think when we came into office we necessarily knew how bad the infrastructure of gaming was,” he said, adding that by upgrading the facilities, B.C. has gone from having “some smoke-filled dingy place where there might be some machines” to an “adult entertainment opportunity.”

Coleman said the government saw a need to run the gambling business properly.

“If we don’t size to market, and we don’t let [the BC Lottery Corporation] do its job we’re just going to continue to fail on the file,” he said.

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