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Premier, Coleman reject casino criticism

Cabinet minister Rich Coleman has been aggressive in his approach to B.C. gambling, including the launch of B.C. Lottery Corporation
Cabinet minister Rich Coleman has been aggressive in his approach to B.C. gambling, including the launch of B.C. Lottery Corporation's online casino and continued development of gambling facilities while phasing out bingo halls.
— image credit: Black Press files

VANCOUVER – Premier Christy Clark has rejected criticism of her government's handling of a casino resort proposal in South Surrey.

Speaking to reporters at a mineral exploration conference Monday, Clark brushed aside questions about cabinet minister Rich Coleman telling Surrey councillors they won't see another casino proposal after voting down the B.C. Lottery Corporation's proposed Gateway Casinos project.

"He's the minister responsible," Clark said. "He got some questions and he answered the questions. I think it was as simple as that. It's a Crown corporation."

In an interview, Coleman said there were heated words exchanged after a long public meeting and Surrey council's split vote against the proposal. But he has no regrets for his role.

Coleman said Surrey council initiated the project by rezoning land three years ago and asking BCLC to develop a plan to transfer a gaming centre licence from the Newton area to South Surrey.

"Then [Surrey] told us this is the only one they're doing, so go there," Coleman said. "Then the proponent went and spent a lot of money designing it, went through all the questions, added a convention centre, restaurants and all that stuff. And then the hearing wasn't actually a [land use] public hearing, so there was no legal process around it."

Surrey Mayor Diane Watts objected to comments from Coleman and BCLC president Michael Graydon after Watts cast the deciding vote last week to reject the project. While the public meeting was continuing, Coleman told two councillors they won't have another casino proposal if they reject that one.

Coleman said he doesn't expect the project to move to the Township of Langley, because Langley City already has a casino and there probably isn't sufficient market demand for a second one.

The South Surrey location was advantageous because it was closer to Washington state casinos. The four councillors who supported the Gateway plan argued that of $200 million Surrey residents spend in casinos, $160 million goes south of the border.

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