It appears that the topic of a gaming centre is back on the table with the recent articles on the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation proposal to buy the Chilliwack Bingo Association and set up shop on Young Road where the bingo association was going to expand its operation.
This was a hotly debated issue that went before Chilliwack city council and was narrowly approved in September, 2009 as an expansion for the local community groups under the premise of jobs and interpretation of that any revenues would be returned back to the city’s community groups. As an aside, the fact is the monies actually go to Victoria to the Gaming Corporation who decides which groups get what levels of monies.
The proposal should be tabled and discussed by Chilliwack city council, again. The conditions of the originally approved expansion proposal have changed. The Chilliwack Bingo Association may no longer be involved and a private company is the proposed driving force of the gaming expansion. They should appear before council and the public to explain their proposal and how it may benefit the community and allow the community to examine the proposal for any negative affects on our community. And there may be a few. One gaming association is not necessarily the same as the other.
For example, one does not have to look very far for examples of where a private gaming organization’s expansion was not thought to be in the best interest of the local community. On April 19, 2011, the city of Vancouver council led by Mayor Gregor Robertson voted unanimously against the proposal to open a new casino run by a private gaming company. The councillors agreed that the negative impacts of increased gambling addiction and crime simply outweighed the potential benefits of more revenue and jobs.
On the political side of the equation, there’s a wide spectrum of groups from right to left opposing the expansion, joined by medical health officers and members of various police forces. Twenty former police officers from across Western Canada sent a letter to the city councillors asking them to say no to the proposed casino citing crime and loan sharking issues. Vancouver medical health officer John Carsley opposed to the large new facility in Vancouver. Citing his public health duties, Dr. Carsley said there is too much risk that the planned tripling of gaming opportunities by owners of the current casino will lead to an increase in problem gamblers. He indicated very clearly that “Problem gambling is clearly a public health issue.” He went on to state “There is no certainty that it will cause an increase, and no certainty that it won’t,” he said. “But from a public health point of view, we prefer to advise caution. Even a small increase in problem gambling will affect a large number of people. It poses a potential risk.”
Are the reasons that the City of Vancouver came up with in their debate and decision any less applicable to our city? The circumstances are very similar. The conditions of the original bingo association proposal are about to be radically changed with a new legal entity entering the picture and a review and new decision needs to be conducted and reached if the proposal to sell the Bingo Association goes through. If a private gaming group wants to open up in Chilliwack, they should do so by following the democratic process and come into our city through the front door in a transparent manner and this entails a review and a vote on the proposal by the City of Chilliwack’s elected officials and the public yet again. This issue is too important to our community to leave unaddressed, especially given the recent experience and findings of a neighbouring community.
Mayor Gaetz, will you provide the necessary leadership on this with City Council and initiate a new public discussion and decision?