With the proposed South Surrey casino set to make its way to council sometime in the coming weeks, opponents of the casino are making their voices heard.
At yesterday's community discussion held at ABC Country Restaurant in South Surrey, about 60 residents and stakeholders from South Surrey and White Rock turned out to learn more about the proposed gaming centre and call for more public consultation before the City of Surrey moves forward with the proposal. Part of that consultation includes a city-wide referendum, which opponents say would truly show whether or not Surrey residents really want the facility.
"We're asking the City of Surrey for a referendum," said Terry McNeice, president of the South Surrey Ratepayers Association and organizer of the event. "But if they decline for whatever reason, then we're asking for (the casino developers) to fund the referendum."
The casino, proposed by Gateway Casinos and Entertainment and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, would go up at a 25-acre lot at 168th Street and 10th Avenue. The site would feature a 60,000-squarefoot gaming floor with 25 gaming tables and up to 600 slot machines, a 27,000-square-foot conference space for up to 1,000 guests and a four-star 190-room hotel.
"This is a $100-million project and the cost of a referendum was estimated at about $200,000," said McNeice. "Even if the cost was half a million, compared with the $100 million that's not very much, so we'd like to see Gateway fund that."
James Chen, general counsel for Gateway Casinos, said he did not know if Gateway would be willing to fund a referendum, but noted that the application process it has followed so far has been the standard for this type of development.
"We're prepared to comply with the laws," said Chen.
But while Gateway has touted the benefits of the casino as being a big revenue provider - Surrey stands to make up to $6 million per year as a host city - and a good corporate community member, some residents are concerned about the social effects of building a second casino in Surrey.
"Gambling changes your brain chemistry," said White Rock resident Scott Kristjanson, who recently ran in that city's byelection. "I've seen friends and family lose their homes over this and I don't want to see that happen here."
Other concerns include the possible vulnerability of the senior citizens of White Rock and how some may be more inclined to gamble away their money if a casino was just a few blocks away.
"When you're all on your own and lonely, where can you go where the food is cheap, it's exciting and you get some activity? You go to the casino," said Barbara Underwood, a local resident.
"And it would be a sad thing for the seniors of our communities if they bring this in. I like gambling, it's not a big deal for me, I know my limit, but a lot of people don't and for seniors, when you're lonely and there's a nice place like a casino to go."
At press time, members of the public, as well as stakeholders, were preparing to attend an open house hosted by the City of Surrey, Gateway Casinos and BCLC.
The event is meant to give everybody a chance to voice their opinions on the matter to the city, which Surrey council will then take into consideration before deciding on whether or not to approve the project.
See thenownewspaper.com and check out Tuesday's edition of the Now for coverage of the casino open house.
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