Victoria city council will host a combined public hearing to determine the public’s desire for a casino and hear the merits of a proposal, once one is received. The city is the preferred municipality to host a second casino for the region, but is waiting on the British Columbia Lottery Corporation to select an operator which would also locate a site. The Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which runs the View Royal Casino (pictured), is among four potential operators. Black Press file photo

City of Victoria to take public’s temperature on casino

Two public hearings to be combined on controversial issue

After several discussions at the city council level over the past year, the public will have their voices heard in a public hearing to help determine whether to bring a casino to Victoria.

But that hearing won’t take place for several months. B.C.’s Gaming Control Act requires the City of Victoria to grant formal approval for a casino before a gaming license can be issued, and any proposal must first go through “adequate community input.” A separate public hearing is required for a rezoning application.

Sitting as committee of the whole Thursday, council voted to combine the two engagement sessions into one public hearing, giving residents the chance to debate a proposal – when one comes forward – not just the moral and ethical views of casinos.

“They (the applicant) would be able to present to the public some of what they perceive the benefits of legalized gaming and those benefits would likely be the attraction of tourists and locals and the associated tax revenues, which we could use for any number of purposes,” said Coun. Geoff Young during the meeting.

“That type of debate that combines the moral and ethical issues with the practical issues is a preferable approach.”

Coun. Pamela Madoff supports the nature of public engagement, but is prepared for the hearing to be “an extremely emotional process,” with stories of dealing with gambling addiction likely part of the input.

Some council members are open to the idea of a gaming facility in the city if it benefits the community.

“I’m not wildly enthusiastic about a casino, but I’m open to seeing a new hotel with a casino inside,” Mayor Lisa Helps said. “I’m willing to keep my mind open to that.”

Coun. Ben Isitt said public engagement should have started 18 months ago, and made his own views clear about casinos. “It’s just a waste of land, though. Why would we allow someone to build a space full of electronic equipment to suck people into it to stare at screens,” he said. “It’s not the type of activity we want in this community.”

The highly controversial issue began last year when the British Columbia Lottery Corporation selected Victoria over Saanich as the preferred municipality to host a second gaming facility in the region. Shortly after, the city submitted an expression of interest, identifying Crystal Gardens and the adjacent Apex site as potential sites for a casino.

BCLC is still in the process of selecting a service provider to operate and find a location for a casino, but has narrowed the list to four, including Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (which operates the View Royal facility), Gateway Casinos, Changes Gaming Entertainment and Gamehost Inc. A decision is expected by fall.

Local governments that host a casino or gaming facility receive a 10-per-cent share of the province’s net gaming income generated by the facility. In 2014, View Royal received more than $4 million in gaming revenue from its casino – money that funded library services and other community programs.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com