In a decision that seemed to surprise many in attendance, Surrey City Council voted 5-4 in opposition of a gaming application transfer that would have allowed for the construction of a large casino entertainment complex in South Surrey.
The narrow vote followed the conclusion of a marathon public hearing that stretched over the course of two sessions for a combined time totaling more than 13 hours, during which around 120 speakers presented to council their case in favour or opposition of the project.
While councillors Barinder Rasode, Tom Gill, Linda Hepner and Barbara Steele voted in favour of the project, councillors Marvin Hunt, Bruce Hayne, Judy Villeneuve and Mary Martin voted in opposition, with Mayor Dianne Watts casting the deciding vote.
In the reasoning for her decision, Watts said that while she did see the benefit the amenities such as the four-star hotel and convention centre would offer the city — as well as the added revenue — she did not feel it would be right to transfer the current Newton gaming application into a community that clearly did not want it.
“One thing I know for sure, is the South Surrey community is a very passionate community and cares very deeply about their community and what happens in Surrey,” she said. “To take (a gambling site) from one community and force it on another that doesn’t want it, I can’t support (the proposal), and I will not.”
For Terry McNiece, president of The South Surrey Ratepayer’s association and key organizer of the opposition movement, the decision showed that democracy is alive and well today.
“In my heart I figured we’d always win it. I was optimistic,” said McNiece. “All the effort is put in by people in the community and as you saw, they were quite passionate about it. All the people in the community need to take credit for this and there are dozens of people that put in hundreds of hours for this, so they deserve recognition.
“A lot of people said this was a done deal but we always said it wasn’t a done deal until it was put to a vote.”
McNiece also said he believed the number of youth that came out to speak in opposition was a key factor in the final decision, something Watts herself alluded to during her reasoning.
“We’ve heard from our youth, they came out with a very passionate point of view,” she said. “We haven’t seen that before and I’m very impressed they made the effort to come out.”
The decision was met with disappointment by those who came out in support of the project.
“We’re just as passionate as the opposition was and we’re obviously disappointed that, at the end of it all, (council) couldn’t’ see the benefit this would bring to their city,” said Tanya Gabara, community liaison for project developer Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited. “I think it’s a shame that a project of this caliber, as indicated by those who supported it on council, won’t be coming to Surrey. The city needs these amenities.”
When asked if Gateway may still be interested in pursuing other opportunities in Surrey, Gabara said she could not speak to that.
“Obviously we put our heart and soul into this project and I can’t speak to what the future holds,” she said.