This article was first published on October 7, 2010 in BC Business Magazine. To read the original on the BC Business site instead, please click here. We wanted to reproduce the article here because it is an informative, thorough investigation into the salient details of the casino deal. Article is by Nick Rockel; image by Peter Holst. For related materials, please see Vancouver Observer series and Edgewater cannot compete with Singapore for China gamblers. Please note that what Paragon states may differ from actual casino plans, particularly on this question of the ‘destination casino.’ Please stay tuned for future article, and review the Vancouver Observer series (link above) to keep yourselves informed.
The new casino slotted for downtown Vancouver will triple the gambling capacity of the old Edgewater and help pay for a new roof for neighbouring BC Place. Whether the global gambling elite will come to play, as both the developer and province hope, is another matter .
In his black jacket and open- necked shirt, Scott Menke looks ready to play a little roulette, or maybe some Texas hold’em. One morning in late June, the president and co-founder of Las Vegas-based casino developer Paragon Gaming is sitting in the boardroom of his company’s downtown Vancouver office at Plaza of Nations. Menke has just flown in from Edmonton, where his company runs one of its three Canadian casinos. With the confidence of a croupier, he explains how Paragon plans to transform Vancouver into a global gambling destination.
Paragon owns the Edgewater Casino, an underwhelming 30,000-square-foot establishment at the far end of the plaza. But it recently won the right to build a Vegas-style hotel, casino and entertainment complex across the street from here, on a small plot of land next to provincially owned BC Place Stadium. The Edgewater – or rather, its precious gaming licence – will move to the new 780,000-square-foot development, which Paragon aims to finish by 2013.
With 150 tables and up to 1,500 slot machines, the casino portion of the still-unnamed, $450-million project will be more than three times bigger than the Edgewater. But Menke points out that it occupies just 14 per cent of the proposed complex, a branded property that will include two hotels with a combined 650 rooms, plus restaurants, shops, meeting spaces and spa and gym facilities. “Everybody says it’s a casino, but the casino is only 100,000 square feet out of 800,000,” notes the tall Arizona native.
Focus on destination tourism
Menke says the Paragon development is an opportunity to bring more visitors to Vancouver. Where 23 per cent of the Edgewater’s customers are from outside the Lower Mainland, Paragon projects that number will at least double at the new property, thanks to a mix of Canadian and international guests.
In other words, the joint won’t rely on Metro Vancouver residents to keep its baccarat tables and hotel rooms full. “We’ll continue to build our local base, but our focus is really on the destination tourism,” Menke says. “We absolutely believe that we’re going to be additive to the market, not competing with other hotels around here.”
Paragon’s Vancouver play is one more step in the expansion of the B.C. gambling industry, which may soon pour more money into provincial coffers than all corporate income taxes combined. Gambling – or gaming, to use the industry euphemism – is a lucrative business. But skeptics say the provincial government is hooked on the revenues it brings while overlooking the economic and social costs of problem gambling. To others, the idea that high rollers from Chicago and Shanghai will flock to a Vancouver casino is far-fetched. And if the province does view gambling as more than a money grab, it isn’t sharing its plan with the public.