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Recap from November, 2011 – Rezoning for large casino design passed by City Council

This is a recap of the situation as of November 29, 2011, at Vancouver City Council. We will be updating you on new developments on this situation soon:

Despite our legal challenge in BC Supreme Court, in its very first post-election meeting, one of the last meetings of the 2008-11 Council, Council has passed the rezoning application that includes a clause allowing Edgewater Casino to relocate to BC Place. The only councillor who voted against was Ellen Woodsworth. What does this mean? It means that Council did not demand of PavCo that it reduce the massive building size of its original mega-casino proposal, thus leaving the door wide open to future expansion. It’s a clear go-ahead signal to PavCo and Paragon.

Casino expansion is inevitable down the road in the approved massive floor plate, and what’s worse, it’s possible WITHOUT technical gaming expansion. The 600 slots from failing Hastings Park could likely be added to the existing 600 at Edgewater Casino, for a total of 1200 slots at BC Place Stadium. We’d end up with a mega-casino in downtown Vancouver, even without “gaming expansion.” This means Vancouver can go the route of Atlantic City (major casinos downtown, rare in N. America) even without Vision breaking its election promises. It was a mistake (or deliberate folly) for Council not to stipulate that the proponent must submit a new, smaller plan for the relocated casino.

We will see what the BC Supreme Court has to say on this topic. Our contention is that this permission to relocate without a new application is a contravention of BC Gaming law. There are also other legal options. There is also the Development Permit process, but that tends to a rubber stamp process involving City Manager Penny Ballem who was squarely behind this casino project, and the new Director of Planning whose title is now “Director of Development.”

We will need your help and loud voices to remind Vision that it was partly elected because Vancouver believed it was stopping this mega-casino. If its language during the election was deceptive, that will be a betrayal Vancouver will not forget.

For press stories on the Nov 29 passing of the original rezoning application, click here.

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NOTE: we were ASKED BY CITY COUNCIL WHY WE DID NOT OPPOSE SIMPLE RELOCATION.  SIMPLE RELOCATION WAS NEVER PRESENTED TO US AS AN OPTION. READ ON.

Above is the top U.S. expert on the gambling industry and impacts of gambling on communities, Professor Robert Goodman, who has been hired by both Democrat and Republican administrations.

During our fight against the mega-casino in Vancouver, we made frequent reference to Dr. Goodman and his studies on proximity of casinos to residential areas. It is lately being implied by Vancouver City Council that Vancouver Not Vegas only fought expansion, not relocation.

Firstly, the proponents (PavCo & Paragon Gaming) claimed they were only interested in this project if they were granted the right to nearly triple their operation. Therefore, we chose to oppose that plan. However, secondly, we and many of our supporters described at length the problems with putting gambling in proximity to residential areas, especially dense neighbourhoods. Throughout the hearings many Vancouverites cited studies and stats showing that proximity increases rates of problem gambling and crime etc. When it is now said that no one objected to relocation, we must remind Council to stick to the facts. A majority of Vancouverites don’t want gambling in our downtown or our neighbourhoods, and this is a widespread view. Most cities put gambling on the outskirts of town for a reason, if they allow it at all. Let it not be said we did not oppose the BC Place stadium location. That’s just simply untrue. 

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PREVIOUS NOTE:
NOVEMBER 24, 2011

They’re back. Ignoring our legal challenge at BC Supreme Court, City Hall appears to be going ahead with a relocation plan whose details are completely unknown to the public. From Council’s Agenda for November 29:

“Staff advise that BC Pavilion Corporation is now ready to proceed with enactment of the by-law for the project at 777 Pacific Boulevard, which allows for the relocation but not expansion of the Edgewater Casino on site. This enables Concord Pacific to proceed with enactment of the By-law for their application at 10 Terry Fox Way (Concord Area 5B East).

The following is therefore put forward for consideration by Council:

THAT the application to amend the False Creek North Official Development Plan, By-law No. 6650, generally as presented in Appendix B of the Policy Report dated January 10, 2011, entitled “Amendments to the False Creek North Official Development Plan”, be approved;

FURTHER THAT the Director of Legal Services be instructed to bring forward the amending by-law, generally in accordance with Appendix B.”

This is unacceptable. We demand City Hall wait until courts decide whether Council’s relocation clause contravenes BC Gaming Law.

Vancouver Not Vegas says new casino relocation plan should go to public hearing

Bulletin: vancouver not vegas says new casino plan should go to public hearing
November 28, 2011

Vancouver Not Vegas group calls on Vancouver City Council to delay approving the casino relocation bylaw pending a court ruling on the bylaw validity and full public disclosure of the relocated casino plans.

[See Council agenda for Tuesday November 29
http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20111129/regu20111129ag.htm]

Sandy Garossino says “Paragon Gaming made it clear from the outset that the relocation and expansion applicationwas an all-or-nothing deal and there was no business case for a relocation alone. Under the Gaming Control Act, a relocation alone is effectively a new application which requires public consultation of the new plan”.

Lindsay Brown says “The public has been told we will have a mega-casino in the downtown residential core, but Council has effectively left the door wide open for the developer to build one by approving a relocation without requiring an amended plan to be submitted. We still have an approval in principle of 2 NFL football fields of casino floor, and tens of millions of dollars in public subsidy with no public disclosure and public hearing.”

“Council consistently treated this application as a re-zoning matter, and has not recognized the requirements of provincial legislation governing decisions around gaming licenses,” adds retired justice Ian Pitfield, a coalition supporter and retired BC Supreme Court judge. “The community was not provided with any particulars of the relocation proposal. It was only told about an expansion.”

Please see our previous press release regarding our legal petition to quash the relocation clause:
http://vancouvernotvegas.ca/2011/11/vancouver-not-vegas-petition-to-quash-casino-relocation-motion/

Media contacts:
Sandy Garossino 778-231-5230
Lindsay Brown 604-313-7744
Ian Pitfield 604-828-5494

Vancouver Not Vegas! Co-founder Launches Petition to Halt Casino Move to BC Place

Vancouver Not Vegas Co-Founder Lindsay Brown has filled a petition in BC Supreme Court seeking to overturn the decision by Vancouver City Council approving the relocation of Edgewater Casino to BC Place Stadium.

“To this day the people of Vancouver still have no idea of what is being planned for the casino development on the BC Place Stadium site, yet Council has essentially written Paragon and PavCo a blank cheque by approving the relocation,” says Vancouver Not Vegas co-founder Lindsay Brown.” Once again plans are being made behind closed doors at City Hall, apparently to be dropped on the public when it’s too late for us to have a voice, but this time Council has granted its approval in advance. The BC Place site is a Vancouver landmark affecting thousands of residents, and we don’t know what’s happening there. We need to be part of the discussion this time around – if there is a “this time around.” ”

“Council consistently treated this application as a re-zoning matter, and has not recognized the requirements of provincial legislation governing decisions around gaming licenses,” adds retired justice Ian Pitfield, a coalition supporter. “The community was not provided with any particulars of the relocation proposal. It was only told about an expansion.”

During the public hearings in the spring of 2011, Paragon Gaming, the owners of Edgewater Casino, strongly stated that relocation without an expansion of their license was not an acceptable solution, and offered no amended plan for the public or Council to review. Council voted to approve only the relocation of the Edgewater Casino against the applicant’s wishes and without public consultation respecting any revisions. The City has not complied with the Gaming Control Act and Regulations.

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Note: Letters sent from Ian Pitfield to City Hall and to the Minister responsible for Gaming beginning in late May 2011 have remained unanswered or have elicited only uninformative replies.

Vancouver Not Vegas now awaits a response from City Council regarding our petition. We are very pleased by Vision Vancouver/COPE’s promise of a moratorium on gaming expansion in Vancouver, however the question of PavCo’s intentions for the BC Place Stadium site remains urgent.

Culture attracts far greater tourism than gambling

This graph gives a sense of the low tourism value of casinos as compared to arts and culture activities in cities. This is a well known fact, yet British Columbia has failed to develop the type of competent cultural economic plan or tourism economic plan that we see in other provinces. BC’s wholesale slashing of arts investment (unique in Canada) and its destruction of Tourism BC indicate to us that the government lacks a plan. The reliance upon gambling expansion is not just lazy, it’s economically unwise. It’s likely that given the combination of global troubles and online gambling the bottom will fall out of casino establishment gambling profits. In addition, cultural tourists generally come from a higher economic bracket, are more educated, and spend much more money at their destination.

Given these facts, it ought to become more obvious to Vancouver and the whole of BC why arts organizations, who were illegally made ineligible for BC gaming grants in 2009, banded together to fight the Edgewater mega-casino proposed for downtown Vancouver. Why are the tourism and arts sectors not being adequately consulted on a strategy and adequately subsidized as all other sectors are? They could bring billions into the Vancouver and BC economies. Why does the BC government refuse to understand, the way Ontario and Quebec do, that arts are a key factor in an economic plan? Both have state gambling (yet far better regulated than in BC) but they offset this with financially smart stimulus to arts and culture. It’s time for BC to get it together.

One must also add that arts and culture are part of a green economy, and bring no downside with them. With gambling however, there are increasingly strong stats that show its costs outweighing its profits, possibly 3 to 1. We heard this from many gambling experts during the hearings at Vancouver City Hall.

For more information on the economic benefits of arts and culture investment and cultural tourism, see post at Stop BC Arts Cuts.

VNV Calls For Review of the Financing of BC Place Stadium Upgrade and Roof Construction

Vancouver Not Vegas Calls For a Review of the Financing of the BC Place Stadium Upgrade and Roof Construction

BC Place Roof
Photo of BC Place model, by Dustin Sacks from the Flickr Creative Commons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vancouver, September 30, 2011

Vancouver Not Vegas calls for a Review of the financing of the BC Place Stadium up grade and roof construction.

“We don’t know the reason the provincial government departed from the normal practice of securing substantial private sector funding for a project of this nature, and chose to under-write all costs,” says Sandy Garossino, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas. “But the timeline of events strongly suggests that the government found the necessary capital for the retractable roof option by instituting devastating cuts to charities and non-profits.”

Major urban stadiums are normally funded primarily through private sector contributions.

• Toronto’s SkyDome was 16% publicly funded, 31 corporations funded the balance;

• Cowboy Stadium in Dallas was 28% publicly funded following a public referendum, with the teams and corporate sponsors providing the balance.

• BC Place Stadium is 100% publicly funded. There has been no disclosure of the business plan supporting this level of public investment.

In the summer of 2009 the provincial cabinet was struggling with cost containment on the stadium roof, because estimates had nearly tripled from when the project was first proposed only one year earlier.

Liberal donor, former BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) chair and Edgewater representative Richard Turner threatened to withdraw Edgewater’s participation if cabinet did not approve the retractable roof.

In this same period Rich Coleman was minister responsible for BCLC and for gaming grant distribution. He moved in the summer of 2009 to seize $36 million in budgeted and committed gaming grants, and institute long-term cuts that would provide another $200 million over 6 years to the government.

“The public needs to know that financing of the roof construction was conducted in a responsible manner that best serves the interests of all British Columbians province-wide. Until these questions are answered, it seems that financing decisions were driven by the interests of Liberal donors and the Edgewater Casino,” says Lindsay Brown, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas.

For more information on the stadium roof, its history and financing, please see our stadium roof post and a detailed timeline.

Did Cabinet Seize Charity Money to Satisfy Casino Demands for Retractable Roof?

BC Place Roof
Photo of BC Place model, by Dustin Sacks from the Flickr Creative Commons

Mystery solved.

For two years the BC public and charities have wondered why the government took the stunning and inexplicable step of clawing back tens of millions from BC charities in one year alone, and seizing some $200 million more over 6 years.

But today it’s all clear. The BC government diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from charities and non-profits that we could have a retractable roof on BC Place Stadium instead of a dome replacement.

It’s clear from the timeline.

In the summer 2009 the BC Cabinet had a very serious problem. Their original $150 million estimate to build a retractable roof on the stadium was spinning out of control–in a single year it had more than doubled to $400 million and was growing rapidly.

Clearly, more responsible options had to be considered.

But the Las Vegas based Edgewater Casino owners, Liberal donors and insiders who hadn’t finalized their own deal with PavCo, wanted nothing to do with government fiscal responsibility. They wanted a retractable roof, and they played serious hardball to get it. Anything else was a deal-killer to them, and they made that crystal clear.

Where was the money to come from to satisfy the Edgewater Casino demands for an incredibly costly roof? Rich Coleman was the minister responsible for the BC Lottery Corporation, the casinos and also for gaming grants.

If the PavCo Edgewater deal was to survive, Rich Coleman had to be part of the solution.

This was the context in which Coleman moved in the summer of 2009 to claw back $36 million already committed to BC charities and cut them off from access to over $200 million over the next 6 years.

Today, more than two years later, as charities and non-profits across the province get ready to close, the roof opens on BC Place Stadium.

The Timeline

In May 2008, when the retractable roof was originally proposed, all-in costs were pegged at around $150 million. By November ’08 those projections had soared to $365 million.

In the spring and early summer of 2009 PavCo called for proposals to develop the BC Place lands. Paragon Gaming, the owners of Edgewater Casino and two other small market casinos in northern Alberta, submitted a bid to build a mega-casino complex onto the stadium. While that bid was under consideration, Paragon shareholder and board member T. Richard Turner, himself the former Chair of the BC Lottery Corporation, wrote a $50,000 cheque from his family company to the BC Liberal party for its May election campaign.

Mr. Turner had purchased shares in Paragon Gaming while still the Chair of BCLC, resigning from that board only months before Paragon’s purchase of the Edgewater Casino.

A month after the Liberal victory, Paragon was selected as the winning bidder, and began negotiations with PavCo to finalize terms.

But storm clouds were already forming. According to Kevin Krueger, the minister responsible, “it was very common knowledge that the bids to build the retractable roof had exceeded the estimate …fairly substantially. People knew… that (cabinet) would be wrestling with that question.”

Faced with a balking cabinet, Turner placed a call to Kevin Krueger’s private cell-phone, saying that Paragon considered its deal with PavCo “conditional upon a retractable roof,” and that failing to build one was a “deal-breaker”. The province had to call Turner’s bluff or find cash quickly.

In July 2009 Rich Coleman, minister responsible for social housing, BCLC and charitable gaming grants suddenly made what seemed then like an inexplicable move. Without warning he seized $36 million already committed to BC charities’ budgets from their legal entitlement to gaming proceeds.

With the stroke of a pen Coleman slashed grants to charities to pre-1995 levels, instantly securing just over $200 million from the charities’ gaming entitlement over 6 years.

Almost exactly the amount needed to meet Paragon’s demands for the retractable roof.

By fall 2009, events were moving quickly, but PavCo’s deal with Paragon was still not finalized. BCLC CEO Michael Graydon’s diary discloses that he brought Paragon VP Dennis Amerine before Treasury Board on October 1, 2009, where it appears yet more hardball was played.

On October 29, 2009 the province approved a budget for the BC Place roof, upgrades and temporary stadium of $575 million, almost 400% greater than the figure announced a mere 18 months earlier. PavCo went ahead with construction in May, 2010, without even waiting for Paragon to get their approvals.

We may never know why PavCo and Paragon were so confident that City Council would agree to a massive casino expansion, but gaming minister Rich Coleman’s dual responsibility for social housing may be a clue. Was there a tacit or explicit expectation that funds for social housing were linked to approvals for the Edgewater expansion? Is this why city staff’s initial public consultation only notified residents within 2 city blocks of BC Place? Why did almost no one in the city understand what was happening until a citizen’s group brought it to public attention? Why was this application so shrouded in mystery?

Whatever the true facts are, it is clear that charities and taxpayers are contributing hundreds of millions because of pressure from a casino partner that then failed to meet its own end of the bargain, and that .

The Fallout

Hundreds of BC charities and community groups across the province have quietly stopped serving their missions, or are near collapse. The Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre has closed, the Vancouver Children’s Festival is near failure, and the Museum of Vancouver and the Playhouse had to be bailed out by Vancouver taxpayers.

In the last 3 years BC charities have lost almost $100 million in gaming entitlements, destabilizing an entire employment sector responsible for 2.5% of the province’s GDP. Vital services freely available to the public, such as transportation of sick children to treatment, assistance for brain injury survivors, counseling for seniors and immigrants have been cut back or eliminated. There is no telling how many jobs have been lost, but they certainly number in the thousands. It goes without saying that entire system of charities and gaming demands a complete overhaul.

More prudent stewardship of the public purse would have saved those jobs and services and still got a perfectly good roof built for our teams.

Party insiders and cronies, backroom deals conflict of interest by those in positions of trust, the pushing around of small charitable organizations to get at their cash, and wild extravagance with the public’s money.

What is Vancouver Not Vegas up to now that the mega-casino has been defeated?

Thanks again to Vancouverites for all their support in this fight! We stood up and became active citizens in a non-partisan manner, and we prevailed! It was a good moment for Vancouver.

What will our organization do now?

Our coalition will continue. We think the BC public needs to know the whole mega-casino story, which has not yet been fully told.

In particular, we demand that BC charities be properly funded out of the billions already brought in annually by existing gambling in BC. Over many years, struggling community charities in this province were forced to advocate for gaming expansion in exchange for a promised percentage of the take. They received not one dollar of the millions earned in that expansion. They were betrayed, and all of BC suffers while massive handouts are given to the gambling industry.

We will:

•  Watch developments on the PavCo site at BC Place
•  Monitor the BC government’s push, via the BC Lottery Corp, to massively expand gambling in BC
•  Follow the unfolding story of the stadium roof and the way PavCo tied it to the casino plan, Paragon and the BCLC
•  Inform the public of the massive lucrative cash incentives handed over to the casino industry, an amount that far surpasses the amount given in other provinces
•  Call for a public accounting of the casino fight. How much did PavCo and BCLC – our public crown corporations – spend on their Edgewater mega-casino campaign, even before they had done public consultation? That was BC taxpayers’ money. How much was it? We demand to know.
•  Protest the massive gaming revenue cuts to charities and arts in this province. State-sponsored gambling in BC has expanded rapidly and its revenues have skyrocketed, and hundreds of millions have been spent on sweetheart industry deals and money-losing vanity mega-development projects. Meanwhile, charity and non-profit services at the heart of every BC community were gutted, separated from that enormous gambling revenue without explanation. To think that gambling was expanded in BC ostensibly for the purpose of supporting those charities! For too long, BC charities and non-profits have been pressured into advocating for expanded gambling with the promise of funding, only to see zero return for that advocacy, then be handed massive cuts. Not only is this insulting; see Pete McMartin’s comparison with how it’s done in Alberta if you really want to feel annoyed.

Enough is enough!

Please tell all your local MLA candidates that funding charities, non-profits, sports and arts is an election issue for you. You may also want to ask them to promise to clean up a gaming ministry and industry that are clearly out of control. BC is the only province fined —and fined heavily—for its tolerance of criminal transactions by FINTRAC, the federal gaming regulation authority. The gambling industry in this province is a disgrace. We need a full public discussion about gaming expansion, especially in light of the rapid extension of online gambling through websites and smartphones.

For the November municipal elections, please remind your candidates that you don’t want gaming expansion in your region!

Gaming Grant Review an opportunity to address crisis in BC’s non-profit sector

Vancouver Not Vegas says the Gaming Grant Review is a welcome opportunity to address the expanding crisis in BC’s non-profit sector.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Vancouver Not Vegas welcomes Premier Clark’s announcement of the provincial gaming review yesterday. “We hope that as a result of this initiative, charities and non-profits will never again have to shill for the gambling industry in British Columbia,” says VNV co-founder Sandy Garossino.

Charities and the communities they serve are entitled to a clear, fair and independent grant process, and not to be pitted against one another in a race for gambling revenues. Eligibility criteria and adjudication should meet broad standards of procedural fairness, and be free of interference by the political interests of any party.

Without public notice, debate or scrutiny, the provincial government instituted rapid gambling expansion as a silent pillar of tax policy, to the point that gambling revenues now exceed corporate taxes in BC. Unaware of the larger picture or the extent of the impact on communities, the charitable sector lent critical support to this strategy. It should have understood the bargain that it made and how hungry government would become for the non-profit share of revenues it controlled. Due to severe cuts to gaming grants, hundreds of charities find themselves on the brink of collapse. Even Vancouver’s venerable Children’s Festival found itself on life support in Spring 2011. British Columbians and their families see insufficient benefit from soaring gambling revenues.

“The system is broken. We must devise a better one for the public and for the charitable and non-profit sector that serves them,” says Lindsay Brown, VNV co-founder.

We look to Premier Clark to demonstrate the government’s good faith by granting emergency interim funding to sustain any organizations close to failure while we await the outcome of the review.

Media contact:
Sandy Garossino
778-231-5230

sgarossino@gmail.com

To see discussion of this issue, follow our Twitter (@vancityVegas) and also the Twitter hashtag #BCgaming.

Below: an example of the charities who benefit (or in many cases have benefited in the past but no longer do) from local gambling establishments.


 

 

Vancouver Children’s Festival at risk; why not fund it with the giant BC Lottery Corp advertising budget!

 

The Vancouver Not Vegas organization calls on Premier Clark to immediately suspend expensive advertising campaigns for the BC Lottery Corporation and invest that money in the almost 1,500 BC charities are non-profits that are on the brink of failure due to cuts in gaming grants and other government funding.

Premier Clark: Please truly put Families First by saving the Children’s Festival and other non-profits and charities.

 

Vancouver International Children’s Festival is at risk of closure after nearly 35 years. And hundreds of other festivals, organizations, charities and non-profits are in the same boat.

Money from gaming is simply not going to the charities and non-profits who were the justification for BC gambling expansion in the first place. Why are we seeing gaming funding removed from family festivals and other charities, and siphoned into projects like the BC Place Stadium Roof? What about the massive revenue increases for the BC Lottery Corp this past decade? None of those increases have gone to the charities and non-profits who made that expansion possible! Now they are shutting down all over the province. Premier Clark, please deal with this travesty. This is a breach of trust with the people of British Columbia. Use the BCLC ad budget if necessary.

While we would like to eventually see a de-linking of charities from gaming, and see them funded instead out of general revenue, for the time being we have no choice but to ask for charity gaming grants to be restored from existing gambling revenue. How can the government continue expanding gambling in this province in the name of charities, while withholding the percentage of revenue they were promised?

Full text of media release is below:

Continue reading

Alberta Gaming Model Better than BC’s

BC’s gaming model is not efficient or competitive. Operating at capital lower cost, with a higher net return to government, Alberta is able to generate a staggering $323 million to charities (or $87 per capita). BC only manages $120 million for charities (or $28 per capita), and a lower net return. See “BC Lottery Corp spending spree while charities reel” in the Vancouver Observer.

Meanwhile, as Pete McMartin’s coverage in the Vancouver Sun shows, BC has handed out $400 million to private casino developers in recent years. And capital expenditures are on the rise. The BC Lottery Corporation is set to spend almost $350 million in new capital spending over the next 3 years alone. For a corporation with no bricks and mortar gaming facilities, $350 million in capital costs over three years is strikingly high.