The thought of having a casino potentially call downtown Victoria home has the city’s business community already buzzing.
Although the city is only at the expression of interest phase in the selection process, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is keen to see what a proposal would entail and how a casino would fit into the community.
According to Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, people have been talking about a potential casino for years. Now the talk has turned to wondering, is it a possibility?
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity there and we as a community can’t afford to ignore those things that add to our entertainment district and our tax revenue,” said Carter, adding if such a facility could be used to build off-season business, it would make it even more attractive.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in can we make something positive out of this? We need to look at what we can do to refresh our entertainment and attractions.”
In early October, the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) asked six communities throughout the region whether they would be interested in hosting a casino or community gaming facility — in addition to the View Royal Casino, Playtime Victoria in Saanich and Bingo Bingo in Esquimalt.
BCLC has identified Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria, Esquimalt, Esquimalt First Nation and the Songhees First Nation as markets with potential for a second facility.
The request for expression of interest is the preliminary phase of BCLC’s selection process. Municipalities have until Dec. 11 to respond, but so far everyone except Oak Bay has publicly said they are interested in being considered.
“We don’t know right now where we’re going to go. It’s too early,” said BCLC spokesperson Angela Koulyras. “We need to take the time to review what’s submitted to us, how they’ve answered the questions they were asked and then determine the next step.”
According to a staff report presented to council last week, Victoria has guidelines and policies that were adopted in 2003 for regulating a casino’s location and development. The guidelines state a facility could range in size from 30,000 to 60,000 square feet, and must be incorporated into a mixed-use development containing other non-gaming amenities.
Areas that would be considered include parts of the downtown and the tourism precinct of James Bay, as well as the Douglas-Blanshard corridor from the north edge of downtown to the city boundary at Tolmie Street. Council may amend the guidelines to include other possible locations, but staff recommend the best place for a casino would be situated close to a major tourism locale.
The guidelines also state that a professional social impact analysis, which would demonstrate how health and security impacts would be monitored and mitigated, must accompany a casino rezoning application.
In addition, the report noted a new casino facility could add significant dollars to the city’s annual revenue, which could be allocated to housing initiatives or infrastructure reserves to fund priority projects such as Fire Hall No. 1 and Crystal Pool.
Local governments that host a casino or community gaming centre receive a 10 per cent share of the province’s net gaming income generated by those facilities. Last year, View Royal received more than $4 million in gaming revenue from its casino. The money was used to fund library services and other community programs. Some of the revenue is also shared with West Shore communities.
If selected by the BCLC, the city can choose to withdraw its interest at any time should council find the casino service provider can’t adequately meet policy requirements.
Council voted to keep the door open to the idea, but three members were opposed.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the decision to keep the option open is a practical one, and Coun. Chris Coleman reminded his colleagues the city used to have a casino downtown that ran effectively for a number of years.
“I think we would be bordering on silly not to at least be involved in the discussion,” Coleman said.