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Charities to vote on bingo deal

Chilliwack officials won’t be revisiting their approval of a new community gaming centre with slot machines now that the sale of Chilliwack Bingo Association to a gaming corporation is pending.

“No, it was a quasi-judicial decision we made in September 2009 to approve the community gaming centre proposal,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “It was based on the facts of the day that were available to us.”

Great Canadian Gaming announced Monday it had inked a sales agreement with Chilliwack Bingo to purchase its operations and business assets, with subject removal projected for next month.

Coun. Sue Attrill said the proposed transaction doesn’t change anything for her, despite the somewhat surprising nature of it for Chilliwack.

“The reason why I voted in favour originally was that slots are a legal form of entertainment. A lot of people were heading out of town to gamble in other communities,” she said. “I think in the end they will still do well and bingo will remain a strong form of entertainment for those who want it.”

Although the mayor said council is not “privy” to any of the confidential details of the sales deal from Great Canadian Gaming, Gaetz said she’s confident the local non-profit groups will be in the driver’s seat.

“It’s my understanding in the current agreement they get 20 years of revenue. So whatever they are looking at would have to be equal to or better than what they have,” she said. “It’s common sense to me and I think the democratic process will prevail. We believe in our charities.”

In fact, representatives from the 49 member groups that make up the Chilliwack Bingo Association will ultimately be deciding its future.

The conditions of the proposed sale of all CBA assets to Great Canadian Gaming are slated to be presented, considered, and voted upon at a May 7 meeting of the Bingo Association membership.

Chilliwack Bingo manager Fran Heagy said she couldn’t disclose any of the agreement details because of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, but she did confirm that Chilliwack Bingo had received an offer from Great Canadian Gaming.

She clarified that the five-acre property on Olds Drive had not been put up for sale, as suggested in an earlier media report.

“We’re in the middle of doing our due diligence,” she said. “The members’ vote on the agreement is only one part of that process.”

Great Canadian Gaming spokesman Howard Blank said the community of Chilliwack clearly has a “desire” for bingo and other amenities, given the stellar gaming revenues from Chilliwack Bingo, which totaled $11 million.

“We thought it would be a great fit,” he said.

With the CGC idea already green-lighted by council, they could potentially offer slots, off-track betting, and a range of other gaming and entertainment options in the growing market of Chilliwack, he said.

“Chilliwack had the number one spot in terms of revenue in the province in 2010, which beat out Vancouver by over a million dollars,” said the vice president of media, entertainment.

Asked why Great Canadian Gaming officials went public on Monday with the sales agreement announcement despite the fact the deal is not yet complete.

“We’re a public company and as such we must announce these deals in a timely manner,” Blank said. The company runs 10 casinos, four racetracks, two CGCs and more.

More details on the potential Chilliwack acquisition is expected by May 12, when the company announces first quarter results for 2011.

“That’s when we should be able to announce the closing and the terms of the agreement publicly,” he added.

Coun. Pat Clark remembered the night she voted in favour of a new CGC for Chilliwack.

“Going through that process, and learning how much the bingo revenue meant to the charities, I really hope they will continue to have that revenue if this sale progresses.”

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