It was the third and final community-organized meeting regarding the proposed South Surrey casino and while the event was aimed at getting people the information they need to make a decision on the project, it was clear most attendees had already made up their minds.
Hosted by the Surrey Ratepayer's Association at the Pacific Inn hotel in South Surrey Wednesday night, more than 300 members of the public came to hear what various representatives of the proposal had to say.
In attendance were representatives from BCLC, Gateway Casinos, First Nations and the City of Surrey, though no Surrey council members were present. Additionally, Coun. Helen Fathers of White Rock attended, as did representatives from MLAs Gordon Hogg of Surrey-White Rock and Stephanie Cadieux of Surrey-Panorama.
However, while the meeting was billed as an "information session" for people to have their questions answered, it quickly turned into a steady stream of opponents voicing their opposition to the project.
"I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of hearing some of the things I'm hearing from the bureaucratic spin doctors on how blessed we are to be having this casino in our community," said Russ Buchanan. "If I was a hotel or restaurant operator in the area, I would be very concerned, and I wonder what happened that brought us to a place where we're even considering this monster being put in your community to destroy your neighbourhood."
While stakeholders such as Jim Lightbody, of the BCLC and James Chen of Gateway Casinos attempted to present numbers from past studies showing how crime actually had gone down in Surrey as a result of casinos in a 2007 study, they were subjected to catcalls and boos from the audience.
"Those are the facts," said Lightbody, in response to an audience member saying the stats weren't true.
Chen also noted that an open house held last week yielded roughly 160 response forms submitted to Gateway, of which more than half were in favour of the casino.
Chen's figure was met with outrage by the audience.
Terry McNiece, president of the South Surrey Ratepayer's association, had to remind the audience to be civil several times over the course of the evening, and that the representatives were attending on their own time.
Others took the meeting as an opportunity to speak out about possible links between the 16th Avenue on-ramp and the casino's potential to raise the value of Gateway Casinos were the private company to ever go public.
However, despite the general mood of disapproval from the audience, there were some residents with genuine questions for the stakeholders.
One man from the audience asked if Surrey taxpayers would be liable for costs of things like sewers and roads that would have to be built for the complex if the casino did not end up being the moneymaker for Surrey it's being touted as.
To that, Ron Hintsche, manager of planning south for Surrey said, " No, Surrey residents would not be on the hook."
Hintsche added that the costs for any sewage/road services would be fronted by Gateway.
A woman named Pam wondered why the First Nations were being so vocal about the lack of consultation and their refusal to take a stance on the issue. She wondered if residents would rather have a casino put in White Rock on the beach where they would have no say, as they do not own the land.
In the end, McNiece advised those in attendance to submit their thoughts to Surrey council, as it had the final say on whether or not the proposal would proceed. McNiece asked everyone to attend a Nov. 26 council meeting to show their disproval for the gaming application that is set to come before council at that time, and again at tentative Dec. 10 public hearing on the application, if council moves it forward.
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