Once a week, Bob Beckwith and his wife make the journey from their Fernwood home to the View Royal Casino and hit the slot machines.
When it comes to gambling, the 77-year-old admits he’s cheap. But he doesn’t just go to the casino for the slots, it’s also a place to grab a bite to eat and catch up with friends. The outing is something the seniors look forward to every week.
“It’s just getting out of the apartment. I can’t play tennis anymore so you have to do something,” said Beckwith. “You are mingling with people. I think it’s good for the health of older people.”
Many of the people Beckwith sees in the casino during the day are seniors who are there for the same reasons as him, not spending their life savings. The couple sets aside a certain amount of money for gambling each week and is thrilled about the possibility of a gaming facility opening somewhere in downtown Victoria.
Earlier this month, the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) announced Victoria was selected over Saanich as the preferred municipality to host a second gaming facility in the region. The BCLC has yet to select a location, but city staff have identified Crystal Gardens and the adjacent Apex site as potential locations.
Mayor Lisa Helps called the announcement “good news” for Victoria, but not everyone agrees. A few city councillors believe a casino will cause harm in the community, and have received a number of phone calls and emails from residents opposed to the idea.
Despite the controversy, Beckwith said many seniors are excited about the proposal.
“Some are worrying far too much about others not being able to handle their money. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine. Maybe three per cent won’t, but you can say that about any age,” said Beckwith, noting bus trips to casinos in the U.S. are popular for seniors.
“Most people handle their money much better at a casino than what is being written in the local papers…It’s not going to break us.”
“We’re not going to be homeless.”
Kerry Milton, the new executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA), has been speaking with several businesses about the proposal and hearing mixed reviews.
Many people realize a casino will bring more people into downtown, she said, but others feel it doesn’t add to a community. One thing that people can agree on, however, is something needs to be done with Crystal Gardens.
“It’s been left derelict and unloved for some time and it’s going to need a lot of money to upgrade, so you need somebody to go in there that has that ability and casinos have the capital to make that happen,” said Milton. “There’s definitely good and bad, but I think overall anything that adds to the economic vitality is a plus.”
Council’s decision on the proposed casino will likely come down to the site, but the city can choose to withdraw its interest at any time. The size and scope of the facility will be based on proposed redevelopment plans for the View Royal Casino, which have been in the works for many years.
Local governments that host a casino or gaming facility receive a 10 per cent share of the province’s net gaming income generated by those facilities. In 2014, 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. A casino in Victoria could generate roughly $1.8 million to $2.5 million in revenue.