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Saanich mayor renews push for casino to help pay for projects

The mayor of Saanich is renewing a push to bring a casino to the region’s largest municipality, saying the revenue spinoffs will help finance much-needed infrastructure such as a new ice rink and bike park and more sidewalks.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes is looking to bring a casino to the municipality. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The mayor of Saanich is renewing a push to bring a casino to the region’s largest municipality, saying the revenue spinoffs will help finance much-needed infrastructure such as a new ice rink and bike park and more sidewalks.

Fred Haynes said a potential casino proposal would also include a hotel, restaurants and an entertainment complex.

Saanich council’s interest in landing Greater Victoria’s second gaming facility goes back to 2015 when it was shortlisted with Victoria for a licence from the B.C. Lottery Corporation. When Victoria declined, citing potential illegal activity, Saanich made it clear in 2019 that it was still interested and had staff prepare an expression of interest.

A meeting with council and the lottery corporation last March was scuttled just days before the pandemic shutdown.

Documents for that meeting are being dusted off and updated for an April 12 meeting when council will decide on whether to proceed with a casino licence.

Haynes said with municipalities collecting about 10% of revenue from casino operations, that could mean $2.5 million to $3 million a year for Saanich.

He noted the Saanich tax base is heavily tilted to homeowners who pay about 75% of the taxes collected, with businesses and industrial making up the rest.

“I think this really helps to take some of the pressure off the residents,” said Haynes.

Coun. Susan Brice said Thursday she is backing the casino proposal.

“For years we’ve talked about diversifying our revenue stream and not relying solely on the taxpayer,” she said. “The potential is there for several new features in our community.”

She also cited the jobs that a casino can produce.

The lottery corporation has dictated that any new licence shouldn’t interfere with the casino operation in View Royal, so any potential location would be in East Saanich, said Brice.

Haynes said that could include any location in the area between Saanich Municipal Hall and the University of Victoria.

Neither Haynes nor Brice would indicate any possible locations.

Haynes believes a casino would be a way to “harness revenues” that are being lost to online gambling or going to the West Shore. He noted that long-time Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, who died in 2017, supported the idea as a revenue generator for the municipality.

View Royal Mayor David Screech pointed out that the lottery corporation has said a second casino would be much smaller than the Elements casino in his municipality with a maximum of 200 slot machines.

“View Royal is the premier destination facility in Victoria … that’s been made clear,” he said. “The lottery corporation is not entertaining a second major destination.”

The B.C. Lottery Corporation said in an emailed statement it remains interested in “enhancing gambling entertainment in the Capital Regional District, where our market research continues to indicate an additional facility would be attractive to both residents and tourists in the region.”

“We are taking the time to consult with all stakeholders and gather feedback before considering next steps,” said spokeswoman Cecilia Ho.

Screech questioned the timing of another licence in the region, saying casinos have been closed for a full year with no indication of when they might re-open.

“I would argue that we should know how things are going to be re-opened and what the rebound is before they consider a second location,” said Screech. “When [the casino] finally opens its doors again, nobody knows what the uptake will be. How long will it take to get that back.”

Ho said casino operators have submitted health and safely plans to WorkSafe B.C. and the lottery corporation has had recent discussions with the provincial health officer on re-opening timelines. However, nothing definite has been decided.

Screech said the Elements Casino closure since last March has meant losses of between $3 million and $4 million for View Royal, which has meant sidelining the capital projects that gambling revenue usually finances.

View Royal is forecasting tax increases of 4.5% this year, followed by 8.5% and 3.2% jumps over the following years. However, Screech said the 4.5% hike is the only “concrete” increase.

“This year was a challenge partly because of the casino [closing], but we also had a low increase [in taxes] last year.

Screech said he has written Premier John Horgan asking the province to share plans for re-opening. “The industry itself is not aware, so the province should show at least something,” he said.

Haynes said the timeline of any potential casino depends on several factors — the most important being whether residents actually want it.

The municipality is expected to make a major announcement soon a movie studio for Camosun’s Interurban campus and there is an initiative with the University of Victoria in its infancy to create a medical technologies design and manufacturing hub at UVic’s technology park.

“It’s time for Saanich to flex, realize its full potential,” said Haynes.