Below are letters or statements from well known Vancouver citizens opposing the expansion of Edgewater Casino. They are either letters to Council, statements of support for our fight, or presentations that have been made to Council at the public hearings. They are in alphabetical order by author.
Dr. John Blatherwick
Dr. John Blatherwick, Order of Canada, Vancouver’s Chief Medical Health Officer from 1984 – 2007:
All addictions show that the more available a product is, the more of a problem the addiction becomes. Placing this large addiction center next to the sports centers where mainly younger males go, ensures a fresh supply of new addicts for the casinos. There are already more than enough casinos in the Lower Mainland so to attract more into this one center, new recruits are needed. Adding newer and younger gamblers ensures more people will become addicted to gambling.
Peter Busby, Architect, &
Penny Gurstein, Planner
Please also see the blog post that contains this op-ed as well as Peter Busby’s point-form analysis of the casino complex, which formed the basis of this article.
This Saturday and Sunday, Vancouver City Council is holding rare weekend public consultations on the controversial proposed megacasino project adjacent to BC Place.
Council’s ultimate decision on the project will test the fundamental values Vancouver has worked hard to achieve and will set forth a vision for the city’s future.
Vancouver has made great strides distinguishing itself from most large North American urban centres. It’s a city where urban-planning techniques and architectural styles are based on the core values of sustainable, economic, social and ecological development. Vancouverites see these values reflected in the growing collection of innovative green architecture, vibrant neighbourhoods, transit options, green space and lack of highways bisecting the city.
The proposal by Crown-owned BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) and Las-Vegas-based Paragon to build this mega-casino, boasting a gambling floor the size of two NFL football fields and 1500 slots, does not reflect a city renowned for its lifestyle, natural beauty and diverse cultural integration.
The presence of this megacasino in the downtown core threatens to undermine Vancouver’s values while running contrary to the vision of a municipality that aspires to be the greenest city in the world in less than a decade.
The project does not align with Vancouver’s vision of pedestrian and cycling-oriented neighborhoods and mixed-use architecture that integrates and enhances the surrounding communities. Instead, its massive floor plates will make it the bulkiest building downtown, a dominating form in a city that prides itself on its livable urban scale.
Inwardly focused and insular in design, casinos are by their very function a narcissistic drain on society. Through a combination of financial incentives, including inexpensive food and alcohol, casinos create tempting scenarios that dominate a visitor’s reason for travelling downtown. As a consequence, casinos have limited benefits for surrounding neighborhood restaurants and businesses.
This is evident in the PavCo/Paragon proposal, with its vague and limited street-level retail, which it describes as being located to draw pedestrians into the facility as opposed to enhancing the community fabric. In fact, only one of nine eating/drinking venues is accessible from the sidewalk. This plan removes existing pedestrian access on the street, inhibiting movement and access in the heart of the city, leaving the area devoid of human scale and texture.
As part of the development of a provincial property, this site should make significant contributions to the public domain, adding to the vibrant atmosphere Vancouver currently enjoys. Instead, above the ground floor, a multi-storey blank wall becomes the most dominant feature of the proposal, running along an entire city block. The proposed exterior illumination schemes discourage pedestrian thoroughfare and will become outdated quickly. The casino has essentially made this block of Smithe Street its own – an unfortunate terminus for the world-renowned urbanism of the Downtown South neighbourhood, known for its extraordinary livability.
The proposal fails to advance the area with regards to housing diversity, office space, or mixed use development. It would however require a great deal of infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist there and would increase the need for water, energy and food without providing a net increase to the overall sustainability of the area. The amount of parking the proposal recommends anticipates that many patrons will drive to the casino and will exceed the minimum parking requirements by a few hundred parking spaces, increasing vehicle traffic in the downtown core.
Provinces like Ontario and Quebec have documented the severe gambling addiction problems associated with their casinos and more often than not, affecting the financially vulnerable. One study published by Cambridge University Press suggests that for every dollar earned by a casino, it will cost society three dollars to manage problems like addiction, extra policing, bankruptcies, and family breakdowns related to gambling debts and other factors. Vancouver has a myriad of social problems pertaining to poverty, substance abuse and homelessness. Building an edifice that will amplify our existing social problems seems counteractive.
Land in Vancouver’s downtown is finite. A mega casino is not an appropriate use of this limited, valuable, waterfront area. There are numerous and better options for this site. The Costco store by BC Place and Home Depot near Cambie St. and Broadway demonstrate how larger retail stores can provide a community-appropriate amenity to a neighborhood. Vancouver’s downtown should be brought up when people talk about Melbourne and Portland, young cities with fresh perspectives on livability and sustainable development, not mentioned in the same breath as Las Vegas, Windsor, or Atlantic City.
This opposition to the PavCo/Paragon Casino does not signify anti-development. Rather, it reflects a demand for urban development that is consistent with Vancouver’s civic values of social, ecological and economic sustainability.
Vancouver City Council must not approve the expansion of a gambling industry that can be socially toxic and economically dubious. It must reject the expansion of the Edgewater Casino. Vancouver can and must do better.
Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer.
Peter Busby, Order of Canada, Founder and Chair, Canada Green Building Council
Penny Gurstein, UBC School of Community & Regional Planning
As a former Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre I am writing to oppose the proposed Edgewater casino expansion that is presently before Council. I do not think the vision of Vancouver as the Macau of the Pacific Northwest reflects the values of the majority of citizens who live in the city, which the Economist has deemed Number One in the world.
I support the views expressed by former Vancouver City Planner Nathan Edelson that both the process and the project are suspect and inconsistent with the long term vision of Vancouver and its residents. As a planner (MA in Community and Regional Planning, UBC) , I am disturbed by the revelation that the existing casino has not lived up to its Community Benefit Agreement to provide jobs to local residents, which undermines the projected employment benefits of the proposed expansion.
Gambling is for losers. Gambling revenues are financed by people’s losses. Vancouver is a winner. I urge you to vote against the proposal now before you.
Hon. Pat Carney, PC
Bob Cooper, retired police officer
Mar 7, 2011
A matter of choices
Last week I received an e-mail from an old friend, Sandy Garossino, who prosecuted some major gang cases for us back in the 1980s. As well as an excellent prosecutor she was a lot of fun and was always up for a party after the verdict came in. I mention that to let readers know that she is no prude or anti-gambling zealot because Sandy is now with a group called Vancouver not Vegas, a non-partisan coalition opposed to the development of the new Edgewater Casino by Paragon Gambling and expanded gambling in Vancouver in general. Sandy had persuaded my old partner, Peter Ditchfield, to lend his name to the cause and asked if I would do the same. I told Sandy I’d get back to her because I didn’t know much about it and, at first glance, I was of two minds.
I’ve seen the worst side of gambling and its effects on individuals and society in general including murders, suicides, extortions and a lot more. In one of those cases that you never forget, a man lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over 24 hours in a Burnaby casino. He went home, murdered his wife and two small children, spread gasoline around his East Vancouver house then struck a match blowing the house off its foundations and killing himself in the process. Once you’ve walked into a scene like that you tend to view those BC Lottery ads showing smiling people having a wonderful time at the Blackjack tables just a little bit differently than most people.
On the other hand I’ve always believed that people should have the right to make their own choices. I love Las Vegas and go there every chance I get. Matter of fact, I’d just flown back from Las Vegas when I got Sandy’s e-mail. One of the things I love most about it is the absence of political correctness. People drinking at 8 o’clock in the morning and smoking cigarettes indoors.
Coming from this nanny-state I love the freedom that Las Vegas represents. Apart from the atmosphere, I just go to play golf. I don’t gamble so I don’t even have a dog in this race. Like drinking and a lot of other things, gambling is a choice. Most handle it responsibly but there are always those who can’t.
What troubles me is how the present system is run here in BC. Casinos should be in the vanguard when it comes taking a proactive, vigilant approach to the prevention of money laundering and barring gangsters and loan sharks from the premises. Friends who have worked in the gaming industry since leaving the job assure me that the casinos are motivated solely by profit and do only what they are absolutely forced to in this regard and no one’s forcing them to do much of anything. In January, 2009, the RCMP’s Integrated Gaming Enforcement Team issued a report warning of ‘extreme vulnerability’ of the gaming industry to organized crime infiltration, money-laundering, and loan sharking. A month later the team was ordered disbanded by Solicitor-General Rich Coleman (who is also responsible for gaming), demonstrating that you really don’t want to get between the provincial government and the gambling revenue on which they’ve become so dependent. In addition, last year the BC Lotteries Corporation was fined $670,000.00 by FINTRAC for failing to monitor suspicious transactions.
Then I did some reading about the deal itself and discovered that in 2003, BC Lotteries chairman Richard Turner bought shares in Paragon Gaming which he didn’t disclose until 2005. He left the BC Lotteries Board later the same year and was appointed to the board of Paragon Gaming in 2006. That same year Paragon Gaming bought the bankrupt Edgewater Casino which was then located on the old Expo site. Three years later, while Paragon’s present bid to develop the new Edgewater Casino was awaiting approval by the BC Pavilion Corporation, Richard Turner donated $50,000.00 to the BC Liberal Party. And no one saw anything wrong with any of this.
Sound familiar? They’ve probably already fitted up a couple of ministerial assistants to take the fall.
Like I said, I’m all for choice and believe people should be able to gamble if they want but this deal stinks. Approving it would reward the ethics involved and reinforce the status quo, neither of which are acceptable. Sandy, go ahead and put me down on your supporters side.
Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman. He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.
Tom Durrie is President of the Grandview Woodland Area Council as well as longtime arts and music advocate in Vancouver and founder of Arts Advocacy BC
Nathan Edelson, former City planner
For Nathan Edelson’s presentation to Council, click here.
Nathan Edelson is a former Vancouver City Planner and is Professor of planning at UBC.
To the Mayor, Gregor Robertson, and Vancouver City Council
I am very concerned about the proposed casino expansion next to the stadium in Vancouver.
I am opposed to this expansion for a number of reasons:
1. There is already a smaller casino at BC Place which should satisfy anyone wanting to gamble in the downtown. If gambling must be a necessary evil in Vancouver, it’s already there for those who want to throw money away. If the current Edgewater must move, relocate it on the outskirts of town, as is done in other cities.
2. The proposed new casino would constitute a massive increase in the number of slot machines and gambling opportunities in the downtown. The “boondoggle potential” is high and must be acknowledged when compared to the much lower number of gamblers using the neighbouring BC Place casino. Where will the new patrons come from? Do you really believe international gamblers would head for Vancouver to gamble, rather than Las Vegas? Very unlikely! The proponents of the casino probably hope to draw patrons away from other casinos in the lower mainland region. This kind of competitive strategy is dubious. Patrons are most often fond of their own particular casino and would return to them for their regular gambling. A more secret strategy is to lure new people into gambling by making it more accessible next to the stadium, and advertising it as “entertainment.” Is this what City Council wants to be party to—luring unsuspecting people into gambling ? How else will they fill all these new gambling slots? This would be a very risky venture on many levels, particularly for the citizens of Vancouver and City Council.
3. What is the vision for Vancouver? Do you really want it to be to foster gambling in the heart of the city? Is this really appropriate? Because once this huge gambling facility is built there’s no turning back, Vancouver’s fate would be sealed.
4. The City has been promised lots of money from this new gambling enterprise. This is also a gamble. It is extremely risky policy to rely on gambling money for City spending instead of proper taxation. It is unfair, inappropriate and unethical, and if history is anything to go by, projected revenues will not appear.
5. Gambling can become an addiction and is a serious social problem. Major criminals are certainly involved in aspects of casino gambling. There are significant public monetary costs and societal costs involved in gambling which must be reckoned. Gambling is in a category of its own; it is not entertainment.
6. A casino this size in the centre of Vancouver will not be something beautiful, something to be proud of. It would be the ruination of the City. Will you be a party to that? It is only about risky money, not vision. Be very careful what you wish for.
I hope you will all vote against this monstrosity, all decked out in shiny loonies, and work on a legitimate vision for Vancouver which the citizens of Vancouver will support with their spirit, art and taxes.
Glenn Lewis is a senior Vancouver artist
Richard Lipsey, Economist, Order of Canada
Excerpts by Richard Lipsey, PhD, Professor Emeritus, SFU, Order of Canada. To see the full text of his excerpts, click here.
We believe it is time for governments to adopt a more sober set of expectation about what new gambling ventures can achieve.
[T]here has been little clear thinking on the question of whether the benefits of expansion outweigh the costs. … Unfortunately, most cost benefit studies to date have been funded by groups with a vested interest in expansion, such as governments or would-be casino developers. In the typical study, the benefits of expansion are overstated, often by ignoring the diversion effect. In other cases, the social costs of expansion are understated or ignored altogether.
To be sure, the tax content of new gambling expenditures for the government is substantial. But for the economy as a whole, we conclude that while some new revenues and jobs are created, these are largely offset by the loss of jobs and revenue in other sectors.
The downside risks of gambling are significant, When the social costs are deducted, the incremental revenues may turn out to be negative. For the BC government, even a tiny increase in healthcare, social services or law enforcement costs would easily wipe out any incremental gain. Sadly, the government continues to overlook the need for objective and realistic analysis.
[T]he benefits from new gambling are limited, and easily overwhelmed by large downside risks.
Speech to Council, March 7, 2011
Cole Porter’s classic “Anything Goes” describes the attitudes of the leadership of both the B.C. Lottery Corporation and the Solicitor General’s ministry when it comes to enforcing the regulations at casinos.
How has the gambling industry become so successful in B.C.? It is now grossing over 2.5 billion dollars annually. They have become the masters of “spin.” Exaggerating the profits that will come to the host community while minimizing the criminal, social and addiction costs.
They also knew they had to create addicts. Municipalities were offered a share of the “take.” Then they targeted non-profits and charities. As each group became “hooked,” relying on that cash flow, the industry knew they could count on these addicts to be advocating for more gambling facilities.
This all-cash business has donated to some political campaigns. Paragon Director Richard Turner dropped $50,000 into the Liberal Party war chest. Vision Vancouver received $2,500 from Paragon in November 2008 via Edgewater Casino.
Thanks to CBC radio and the Globe and Mail, we have been very recently informed of egregious lapses in the enforcement of existing casino regulations. Under ten thousand dollars can be brought in legally to any casino in a 24-hour period. The Solicitor General’s Ministry has been fined nearly seven hundred thousand dollars for not enforcing this regulation.
In the January 7th Globe and Mail, Robert Matas states that an integrated, illegal gambling enforcement team that was formed in 2003 was disbanded in 2009. In Ontario, police officers are in every casino. Here, in B.C. there are none. Casino operators have to report highly suspicious activities to the provincial regulators and the federal agency. That information might eventually get to the police, long after the money laundering crime has occurred.
On CBC radio, Stephen Quinn asked a PR person for BCLC: “In what universe is $1,200,000 in twenty-dollar bills not suspicious?” That question went unanswered. On January 10th, CBC radio host Mark Forsythe asked Minister Coleman, “Why shouldn’t the $10,000 limit be enforced?” The Solicitor General replied he wanted to be clear on this point: “We have customers, legitimate people, should they be stopped? We say ‘No’.”
In concluding the interview, Mark asked the Minister, “Should enforcement be given new powers?” His reply: “No.” The only change he was prepared to make is “Chips will not be allowed to move from one casino to another.”
On March 3rd, Michael Graydon, President and CEO of BCLC said on CBC that a large share of gambling revenue goes to public education. He knows very well that not a nickel goes to education. A glib falsehood seems to be A-OK if it will justify expanding gambling.
In the March 2nd Globe and Mail, Frances Bula ran the news story that BCLC is asking the enforcement branch that it be allowed to wire transfers from overseas directly to B.C. casinos. Michael Graydon insists that the change won’t increase the possibility of money laundering at casinos.
Howard Blank, vice-president of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation was reported as saying he “would rather have something transferred in than get a bag with $100,000.” In this same story, Paragon Gaming president, Scott Menke, said Singapore, which allows wire transfers, has seen enormous increases in its gambling revenue. Hooray! If Vancouver approves this destination casino, it will join the club that accommodates not just local criminals but will also provide facilities for the needs of international thugs and gangsters.
Founder, Citizens Against Gaming Expansion
Police Coalition Letter
Mayor and Council,
City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver BC V5Y 1V4
April 7, 2011
Dear Mayor and Council,
Re: Proposed Relocation and Expansion of Edgewater Casino
We, the undersigned, are members or retired members of the VPD, RCMP and other law enforcement agencies operating in BC, Canada, and internationally. We all have decades of experience in law enforcement, and many of us have particular experience or undercover expertise with organized crime, gangs, and money-laundering. Organized crime and gang activity have become deeply entrenched in the Metro Vancouver environment and represent an ongoing threat to public safety.
We urge this Council not to approve the proposed expansion and relocation of the Edgewater Casino. Casinos and racetracks are well known for their vulnerability to the activities of gangs and organized crime–money-laundering, loan-sharking, extortion, and prostitution, as well as for the vulnerability to public corruption which they engender.
That organized criminals and gang members frequent BC casinos, and easily use them to launder money, or use them as sites for the operation of loan-sharking and prostitution, is well known. Policing in casinos and racetracks requires a robust commitment to real enforcement of the law–a commitment that is plainly lacking at the present time.
Further, we are very concerned about the impact of increased gambling on our addict population, or those at risk of entering it. We note the 2009 report of the B.C. Medical Association, Stepping Forward, which found that the incidence of severe gambling addiction has more than doubled between 2002-2009, and that BC now has nearly as many severe gambling addicts as it does drug addicts. Additionally, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has recently released a study showing that 29,000 Ontario teens in grades 7-12 now show signs of problem gambling.
It is no coincidence that these youths are also significantly more likely than their peers to engage in gang violence, carry a handgun, and deal drugs other than cannabis. Tragically, they are also 18 times more likely than their peers to have attempted suicide in the past year.
Locating a major casino in a major regional sporting complex sends a poor message to our youth.
Addiction is a blight on society. It has a close and mutually reinforcing relationship with crime. It promotes additional offenses such as property crimes and drug-dealing, as victims seek the money to feed their habits–whatever those may be. There is no way to measure the social cost of this suffering on victims and their families, but the health, policing, criminal justice, social services and corrections systems as well as charitable service agencies all bear the brunt of the increased pressures brought about by this public problem.
Securing new sources of government funds from addicts to pay for their increased demand on government services is not wise public policy.
Without significant changes in the policing protocol, and the adoption of rigorous crime control standards for casinos such as those employed by the Ontario Provincial Police, we are in no position to deal with the increased criminal activity that will necessarily attend the development of a massive casino on the scale proposed here.
As citizens and public servants, we owe a duty of care to society’s weakest and most vulnerable, to our youth and seniors, and to the public at large. As police officers, we have seen the ravages of addiction and of gang and organized crime first-hand. The connection is closer than most members of the public may imagine.
We urge Vancouver City Council to vote against the expansion and relocation of the Edgewater Casino.
Assistant Commissioner Earl Moulton – RCMP Commanding Officer Saskatchewan
(Ret’d) Chair of Vision Quest Recovery Society (Addiction recovery services, BC)
Deputy Chief Constable Peter Ditchfield, Organized Crime Agency of BC (Ret’d)
Detective Ian Pope, Organized Crime Agency of B.C., formerly VPD, (Ret’d)
Sergeant Bob Cooper, VPD Asian Organized Crime Section, (Ret’d)
Sergeant Ivan Chu, New Westminster Police Service (Ret’d)
Superintendent GlennWoods, Officer in Charge of Behavioural Sciences, RCMP (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Otto Bertagnolli, RCMP Drug Section (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Scot Filer, RCMP Major Crime Section (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Peter Montague, RCMP Commercial Crime Section (Ret’d)
Corporal Howard Parks, RCMP Money Laundering Expert (Ret’d)
Corporal Chris Mathers, RCMP Money Laundering Expert (Ret’d)
Sergeant Pat Powell, RCMP Threat Assessment Expert (Ret’d)
Inspector Keith Davidson, RCMP Major Crime Section (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Bob Hartl, RCMP Security Engineering Expert (Ret’d)
Dr Teal Maedel, RCMP Operational Psychologist (Major Crime Section)
Staff Sergeant Robert Stenhouse, RCMP Drug Section (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Sid Slater, RCMP Major Crime Section (Ret’d)
Staff Sergeant Tibi Roman, RCMP Border Integrity (serving)
Vancouver Churches – Coalition letter
[It should be noted that this is the first time Vancouver’s major downtown Christian churches have felt the need to come together as a coalition on a civic issue.]
March 9, 2011
Re: Mega-Casino Opposition
Dear Mayor Robertson and City Council:
The undersigned, clergy and staff from major downtown Vancouver churches have agreed, personally and collectively, to stand in opposition to the proposed expansion of The Edgewater Casino in The Yaletown-False Creek area.
We are particularly concerned that the people of Vancouver have not been adequately consulted on the subject of gambling expansion in the city, and we are especially concerned that those who work and reside in the Vancouver downtown core have not been adequately informed of the plans to redefine life in the downtown area through the construction of this mega-casino.
We do not support the enormous expansion of the Edgewater Casino and its proximity to the soon-to-be-reopened BC Place Stadium, particularly when it is proposed to become the centrepiece of a large “entertainment complex” complete with hotels, restaurants, and other facilities.
Well documented social ills which accompany any and all casino developments are more than sufficient reasons for us to oppose this planned development. Our resistance is magnified even further when we see the scale of the casino that is proposed to be located in the heart of downtown!
We call on Vancouver Mayor and City Council to impose a moratorium on all gaming expansion in our municipality pending a full and comprehensive public review of gambling, its regulation, and the appropriate gaming revenue-sharing formula with municipalities and non-profit organizations.
Christ Church Cathedral
St. Andrew’s Wesley
First Baptist Church
Central Presbyterian Church
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Michael Walker, lawyer
Mayor and Council:
I am concerned about the proposed Edgewater Casino expansion and its
effects on the City. I believe its economic benefits have been
significantly overstated, and the negative social and neighbourhood impacts
On the economic development front, the project will expand hotel room
inventory in the downtown when occupancy rates are already uneconomically
low. I do not credit the claims that this will be a destination resort
drawing international tourists and driving economic activity in the
surrounding area. In fact, the opposite is as likely to be true — a
mega-casino will repel people from the neighbourhood. Rather than
expanding the local economy, it could well have an adverse effect.
On the social front, the staff report refers to a City commitment to
“continue to work with the Provincial government and casino operators to
implement responsible gambling practices.” But neither the Province nor the
casino industry appears to be serious about any of that. Both are fixated
on the revenue side of the equation, a fixation that Pavco now seems to
share. They pay lip service to addressing gambling addiction, and do not
seem able to eradicate money laundering from their facilities.
On the neighbourhood front, this would be the worst of big box
developments. On the outside, it will exacerbate the toxic esthetic impact
of BC Place and its awful new roof. What goes on inside will not, as the
staff report supporting this rezoning suggests, enhance the neighbourhood
as a “vibrant city and regional focus of sports, entertainment, community
and cultural events and facilities.” I have worked in casinos on many
occasions in the days when they were required to be staffed in part by
volunteers from the non-profit organization receiving a share of the
profits. More recently I have wandered through the slots and tables at
River Rock Casino in Richmond. If you don’t know, I can tell you: a casino
is a dour, ill-tempered place. The only smiles usually visible are on the
advertising billboards outside. This is no way to build a vibrant city
I know that the Province is not legally subject to the City’s zoning
jurisdiction, and can force this project if if chooses to do so. But this
does not mean you must play a facilitating role. A mega-gaming facility is
the wrong use for this land and City Council should reject it.
Michael Walker is a Vancouver commercial real estate and hospitality lawyer.