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Vancouver council considers 'modifying' moratorium on gambling expansion

Parq Casino, Hastings Racecourse interested in increasing slots, table games.
Vancouver council will consider a staff report May 8 that requests the 2011 moratorium on gambling expansion be modified to potentially increase slots and table games at Parq Casino and Hastings Racecourse.

Vancouver council is being asked to "modify" the 2011 moratorium on gambling expansion to allow Hastings Racecourse and Parq Casino to expand the number of slot machines and table games at its locations.

Parq currently operates 600 slots and 61 gaming tables, while Hastings has 446 slots and no tables. A staff report that goes before council May 8 doesn’t say how many slots or tables could be added to the two gambling venues.

The report, however, says the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) has projected the City of Vancouver’s share of potential increased revenues to be in the range of $2.6 million to $5 million.

For any expansion to be considered, council would have to lift or modify the gambling expansion moratorium established in 2011 by the Gregor Robertson-led Vision Vancouver council.

Currently, the moratorium prohibits council from considering applications to expand gambling at existing or new locations.

In response to inquiries from BCLC, staff recommends council "modify" the moratorium but enable staff to “analyze and present relevant city and community implications of that request to council for consideration.”

“This approach aims to ensure council decisions are informed by sufficient detail to assess the impacts of expanding gambling at existing facilities before making a decision on an application, while keeping other elements of the moratorium intact,” the report said.

'Known health and safety concerns'

The report said given the known health and safety concerns arising from problem gambling and — at times — casino operations, “the health and social impacts of gambling are important factors in determining whether to allow an expansion of gambling in the city.”

Vancouver Coastal Health would advise on the public health component of increased gambling in Vancouver, and VPD would advise on public safety considerations.

“Given Vancouver’s unique position in the region as the commercial, cultural, and social centre, the extent of various impacts of increased gambling opportunities on the community is likely to differ from impacts in other jurisdictions and should be considered in any assessment,” the report said

The expansion of gambling in Vancouver has a long history of controversy and opposition, with the city once home to several casinos. At one time, Vancouver considered an application in the mid-1990s from Las Vegas gambling magnate Steve Wynn to build a large casino on the waterfront.

In 2002, the provincial government enacted the Gaming Control Act, which gives local governments the ability to approve or reject gambling facilities in their jurisdiction.

The act allows allows municipalities to regulate specific aspects of the gambling facility, including the size of the gambling floor, the allowable number of slots and table games, and related issues such as responsible gambling.

10% of gaming revenue

Municipalities that host casinos receive 10 per cent of the net gaming revenue from casinos within their jurisdiction. In Vancouver’s case, it received $6.2 million from Parq and $996,000 from Hastings in 2023.

In addition to that share of revenue, the city also receives funds from Parq and Hastings to offset “the negative impacts of gambling in the surrounding areas,” the report said.

For Parq, the annual contributions include $150,000 to St. Paul’s Foundation and $300,000 to the city’s “social responsibility fund” for disbursement to projects and programs in the Downtown Eastside and surrounding area.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these payments have been delayed in recent years, but a repayment schedule is underway to catch up on outstanding contributions,” the report said.

For Hastings Racecourse, annual contributions have averaged approximately $130,000 over the past five years. Hastings also pays the city operating fees totalling $1.7 million per annum, which are currently allocated to the Hastings Park Reserve to fund the Hastings Park/PNE master plan.

Ken Sim on gambling

In the 2018 civic election campaign, the Vancouver Courier polled mayoral candidates about their views on casinos and gambling expansion — a hot topic at the time considering the release of former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German’s "Dirty Money" report on casinos and money laundering.

The Courier asked Sim a series of questions related to gambling, including: If elected mayor, would you allow any of the two existing casinos — Parq and Hastings Racecourse —to add more slot machines and gaming tables to their operations? Please elaborate on your answer.

Sim’s response: “We are aware of the provincial government's statements with respect to money laundering, and how this may be impacting the cost of housing. We support the reviews being undertaken by the provincial government, including the recently-released Peter German report, and look forward to working cooperatively to implement recommendations.” 

Added Sim: “Understanding the full extent of the impacts of our gaming facilities — both positive and negative — will be a top priority for an NPA mayor and council if elected. Until that time, we will not be making any commitments with respect to the operations of existing facilities.”

Sim was elected with ABC Vancouver in 2022 on a four-year term.

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