Residents packed Abbotsford City Hall Monday night to voice their opinions on a proposal to increase slot machines at a community gaming centre.
Around 150 people showed up at the public hearing for Chances Community Gaming Centre's request to boost the number of slot machines to a maximum of 300, in increments of 25 to 50, depending on market demand over time.
Most of the audience attending the meeting wore bright blue YES stickers pasted on their shirts.
The hearing lasted two and a half hours with 29 people speaking in support of the increased slot machines and eight others opposing the plan.
At one point, shouts and heckling at the hearing was heated enough that Mayor Bruce Banman admonished the audience to respect speakers regardless of their individual views or remove themselves from the proceedings.
Resident Kuldip Mann brandished a Bible and challenged council members to raise their hands if they thought gambling would be good for their own families.
The city would have to subsidize problems, such as crime, which came along with gam-bling, he said.
"What else does the casino bring to the town? It will bring the skin trade, it will bring all kinds of drug addictions, homelessness," Mann said.
"What you have to look at is the longer, broader picture of this."
He suggested that alternative positive activities be developed instead and that charities should stop taking "blood money."
Chances executives said 72 per cent of the player base, or 2,000 people a month, travel to other gaming facilities with their dollars because they can't get on a slot machine in Abbotsford.
The city, as host government for the gaming centre, stands to earn more than $1 million in revenue annually if more slots are installed and local non-profit organizations would also get increased funding.
A number of speakers stressed the social costs and ripple effects associated with problem gambling including increased rates of suicide, broken homes, lost careers and substance abuse.
Aeriol Alderking also criticized the argument the city could lower property taxes if it received increased gaming revenue.
"Is it your intention to make up the difference by taxing the poor and vulnerable?" Alderking asked.
"Will you be able to sleep knowing you took a child's meal or a pair of shoes to fill the city's coffers?"
Many members of the 72 local community and charity groups that derive gaming funds from the Peardonville Road facility spoke in favour of the proposal.
Charitable, sporting, seniors and service organizations stressed the importance of gaming revenue to their organizations' ability in providing services and programs.
Organizations at the hearing included Big Brothers Big Sisters, Soroptimist International, Abbotsford Whalers Swim Club, and a number of service clubs including the Royal Canadian Legion, Kiwanis clubs and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Jerry Swan, Valley Royals Track and Field coach, said non-profit organizations are scrambling for funds.
"I spend two-thirds of my time as a coach pleading for money," said Swan.
"We are in a struggle for a very scarce resource, and that scarce resource is money. Money to operate."
Resident Jessica Richards said the decision around slot machines should not be a moral issue.
Council can't prevent people from making the decision to gamble, and if they try, people will simply take their dollars outside the community.
Problem gamblers make up a small percentage of the people who gamble, she said.
"Should we close all the liquor stores and pubs because people have a problem with alcohol?" Richards asked.
"You can't punish the majority of people based on the mistakes of a few."
Kevin Chapman, who unsuccessfully ran for council in the last municipal election, disagreed saying councillors should rely on their faith as a moral compass, without which they would be lost.
He submitted a petition with 383 signatures opposing the slots expansion to council.
The original proposal to establish slot machines in Abbotsford generated a lot of conflict on council and within the community.
As many as 500 people - supporters and detractors - attended one of the city's largest and longest public hearings in the fall of 2007.
Council is expected to debate and decide on the slots expansion at its next meeting on April 2.