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NDP would review but not freeze casino growth

NDP leader Adrian Dix, speaking at a stop in Surrey Thursday, fields questions on casino policy. - Jeff Nagel / Black Press
NDP leader Adrian Dix, speaking at a stop in Surrey Thursday, fields questions on casino policy.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix won't pledge to block new casinos or expansions but says he expects the BC Lottery Corp. to rethink its current approach in the wake of last month's defeat of a proposed casino in South Surrey.

Asked Thursday if an NDP government would freeze further gambling expansion, Dix criticized the BC Liberal government's "petulant" response to Surrey city council's decision Jan. 19 to reject a gaming licence for the proposed South Surrey Entertainment Centre.

"I don't know if a freeze is what's required," Dix said at a stop in Surrey. "But clearly the lottery corporation, after their difficulties in both Vancouver and Surrey, has to reflect on the issue of casino expansion at this time."

A proposal to convert Vancouver's Edgewater Casino into a giant casino at BC Place stadium was defeated by Vancouver council more than a year ago in another contentious battle between gambling opponents and supporters.

"We've now had two major setbacks where the lottery corporation was at odds with where the community was going," Dix said. "We clearly have to review what's going on."

BCLC's president Michael Graydon and gaming minister Rich Coleman both ruled out any other Surrey casino location after the rejection but said they'd consider other nearby municipalities, including First Nations land, for a similar casino.

The NDP launched B.C.'s casino gambling expansion in the late 1990s, but it really took off when the Liberals took power in 2001 after running on a platform that promised to stop the expansion of gambling.

Back then, there were 2,400 slot machines province-wide. Now there are close to 12,000 – a five-fold increase over the last dozen years that has included the conversion of old-style bingo halls into "community gaming centres" with slot machines.

Casinos now generate more than $1.5 billion a year for the provincial government.

"There's no question the overall dependence of government on lottery revenues has grown," Dix said.

In an interview last week, Coleman denied he did anything wrong in contacting Surrey councillors in between public-hearing sessions prior to the vote and said he wouldn't do anything differently.

"I don't know how we could have done anything any differently," he said, adding the province believed Surrey council wanted the site off Highway 99 near the Peace Arch border crossing.

"They changed their mind and we move on – it's pretty simple."

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