South Surrey may not be getting a gaming facility, but Newton might.
Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited is permitted to redevelop the Newton Square Bingo Hall into a community gaming centre, according to a corporate report that was approved by council last October.
The report states that if the proposed South Surrey casino was not approved, Gateway would redevelop the hall and construct a gaming facility with 150 permanent slot machines. Originally, Gateway planned to move the hall's gaming licence to the South Surrey casino, pending council's approval of that facility.
"I think that it's very important not to have a gaming centre in a vulnerable community," said Coun. Barinder Rasode of the redevelopment, citing concerns with low-income areas of the neighbourhood. "For me, ideally, if there was no gaming in the city, I'd be very happy, but that's not our decision to make, the province makes that."
Rasode opposed the addition of slot machines in the hall, which was approved by council in October on the basis that they would be installed for a temporary 18-month run. Now they may be there permanently if Gateway chooses to redevelop at the site in a timely manner.
While BCLC vice president Jim Lightbody has said the lottery corporation won't pursue gaming opportunities in Surrey following the 5-4 vote against the casino, Coun. Linda Hepner is confident Gateway will take the city up on the corporate report.
"They got a temporary approval (for the slots) for 18 months," said Hepner. "When that runs out, they will no doubt have done their redevelopment of that building site. That's what they must do in order to have the slots there."
Doug Elford, a long-time resident of Newton who vocally opposed the influx of slot machines, isn't thrilled with the prospect of keeping the one-armed bandits around.
"It sounds like we don't really have much of a choice now," said Elford. "We're going to have to live with the spinoff effects of penny slots in the neighbourhood."
Elford said he would like to see more low-income housing initiatives in the area instead of another gaming facility.
Tanya Gabara, community liaison for Gateway, said the company is committed to revitalizing the site, which is zoned for retail-commercial uses and the construction of a community gaming centre. However, whether or not the site will host gambling is still up in the air.
"That whole mall is scheduled for a revitalization and refresh that Gateway's completely committed to moving forward with," she said. "But as far as the gaming component, it's just too early to say what exactly the next steps will be."
Gateway, which already has the gaming licence for the property, just needs to obtain a building permit by May 1 for redevelopment.
While a heavy-hearted Rasode voted in favour of the South Surrey casino - had council approved it, the slots would've been moved out of Newton - she stressed it isn't a matter of one neighbourhood against another.
"(The City of Surrey's) gaming policy very clearly stipulates that a gaming facility has to be attached to either a hotel, convention center or something else," said Rasode. "The Newton bingo hall does not meet our gaming policy. South Surrey would have."
The city's gaming policy states that any Surrey casino must be a component of a "cluster of tourism facilities" such as a hotel with convention and meeting facilities, a trade and convention centre or an entertainment complex.
It's unclear if the city can take action against the development on the grounds that the facility would not be paired with other tourism facilities. Rasode said she would speak with her team at the city to see what could be done.
Newton has a controversial history with slot machines: in 1998, Surrey city council ran the Great Canadian Casino Company out of town after BCLC installed 191 slot machines in a charity gaming hall in Newton.
The slots were added after the NDP government introduced expanded gambling in B.C., allowing slots in charity casinos. Then-mayor Doug McCallum and his Surrey Electors Team - which current mayor Dianne Watts was a member of at the time - put city staff to work to shut down the slots.
On Jan. 9, 1998, city planner Lehman Walker presented a report to council, saying that the addition of slots would draw more gamblers to Newton and cause more problems in the area. He proposed council outlaw slots from Surrey, which they did the following month.
Semiahmoo open to opportunities
As for the possibility of a casino on Semiahmoo First Nation land following the South Surrey casino's defeat, Semiahmoo Coun. Joanne Charles said there weren't any immediate plans for said land.
"We're not running out and seeking any interest in that matter," she said, though she did note the band was looking at future opportunities for their land. "At this point and time we are exploring the possibilities and opportunities that would be a win, win, win and would provide economic stability to the Semiahmoo First Nation and something that would be beneficial for the communities in the peninsula.
"If anybody knocks on our door with the possibility of opportunities, Semiahmoo will look at them just as any other municipality and first nation would and see if it's something that would be viable and fit into our planning. We don't have any immediate future plans for the lands at Semihamoo, but we are moving forward to make sure we're ready to look at opportunities when they come around."
-With Files from Christopher Poon
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