Victoria moves forward with casino discussions

The City of Victoria is keeping its name in the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s hat to potentially bring a casino to downtown.

The City of Victoria is keeping its name in the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s (BCLC) hat to potentially bring a casino to the downtown core.

Last week, council voted 6-3 in favour of submitting a controversial second expression of interest to participate in phase two, along with the District of Saanich, in the corporation’s process to identify the next municipality suitable to host a gaming facility.

As part of the expression of interest, city staff identified Crystal Gardens and the adjacent Apex site as potential sites for a casino.

Currently, BCLC is considering one of two gaming facility options. The first is a community gaming centre, which would include a combination of bingo slot machines, traditional lottery products, a restaurant, lounge, tele-theatre and a community stage area for live entertainment.

The other option would be a casino facility with a full service gambling entertainment facility with slot machines and table games, a restaurant, lounge, conference centre, hotel, spa and a stage as well.

The facility would begin with 300 to 400 slot machines, with the ability to increase that number in the future. There would also be eight to 10 table games.

According to a staff report to council, the annual revenue potential for the facility is expected to be $30 million to $45 million, roughly $1.8 to $2.5 million of which would be revenue for the city to support “other city goals.”

In November, Victoria and Saanich submitted a response to the BCLC’s request for expressions of interest. Earlier this year, the BCLC identified Victoria and Saanich as local governments with “strong” potential to host a gaming facility and were invited to participate in phase two of the process.

Mayor Lisa Helps voted in favour of the motion.

“I’m very much in favour of us keeping our options open and staying in the running. I think it could be a real benefit to Victoria and downtown,” she said.

It was an issue that many on council did not want to move forward with.

Coun. Ben Isitt vowed to fight the proposal, adding the city already has a lack of parks space, which the Apex site could have been used for, and that a casino encourages and can lead to potential addictions issues.

“I don’t think it’s ethical to rely on that for a revenue stream,” he said.

However, other councillors argued they shouldn’t shut the door on discussions that are still in the very early stages.

“I am supportive of this, taking the next step. I see it as just that — a next step, to continue in the conversation with the province along with Saanich, to the degree in which we’re interested in the site,” said Coun. Marianne Alto, adding there still hasn’t been an opportunity for the community to provide input on the matter.

“It could be another tool in our tool box as far as looking at resource development and I don’t see a reason to shut that door at this time.”

Coun. Chris Coleman noted there were two casinos in the past — one in the downtown core, the other by Mayfair Mall — which were managed properly, provided employment, and had financial benefits to both the city and community organizations who shared in the revenue generated by the facility.

“This is a legitimate operation that has oversight. Not everyone will like that, I get that. This is just saying bring on the other locations, let’s take a look,” he said.

BCLC also has the opportunity to bring forward other options in the city for a potential casino. The letter does not commit the city to anything and it still has the opportunity to back out of the process entirely at any time.