City of Victoria urged to keep casino vision on the table

Victoria shouldn’t entirely deal itself out as a potential host of a casino, says Coun. Marianne Alto.

Mayor Lisa Helps has recommended that in view of recent problems that have come to light regarding money laundering at B.C. casinos, the city should withdraw its support to host a second casino in the capital region.

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But Alto has now suggested council should leave the door open should a First Nations casino bid ever come forward.

Helps’ proposal was that “council direct the mayor to write to the British Columbia Lottery Corporation to indicate that Victoria is no longer interested in hosting a casino.”

In an amendment to be considered by councillors tonight, Alto is proposing that should one come forward council might consider a casino proposal by a local First Nation, “reflecting their right to economic development self-determination.”

“We don’t know whether or not they are going to propose something in the foreseeable future but I don’t want to shut that door completely if they do,” Alto said, adding that her proposal “doesn’t fetter any of our decision making or any future council’s decision making because it could be years from now.

Helps’ recommendation to councillors comes as B.C. Lottery Corp. seeks reaffirmation from the city for its willingness to host a casino as it is about to ask its four pre-qualified gaming service providers to submit casino proposals for Victoria.

In bringing forward her motion, Helps said she was only lukewarm about the notion of a casino in Victoria in the first place. Victoria council only supported a casino if it were coupled with another facility such as a hotel. A standalone casino was not to be permitted.

An independent review conducted by Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, concluded that for many years certain Lower Mainland casinos unwittingly served as “laundromats” for proceeds of organized crime and that laundered money was linked to drug trafficking and real estate transactions in the Lower Mainland’s heated housing market.

Asked how the potential for problems with money laundering would be any different in a casino in First Nations hands, Alto said there are examples across the country of other First Nations casinos that are operating well.

“For me it’s a matter of not shutting a door,” Alto said.

“In the spirit of us being supportive of any opportunity the nations may choose to pursue around economic development, I would rather at least keep the opportunity open should they wish to proceed.”

In a letter to Victoria councillors, B.C. Attorney General David Eby says that the province has accepted in principle all 48 of German’s recommendations, work is underway on half and that nine have been fully implemented.

There is only one casino in the capital region — the Elements Casino in View Royal.

Casinos can be lucrative for local governments. Host municipalities receive 10 per cent of the net casino gaming revenue to offset additional costs.

In View Royal, that translates into more than $4 million a year shared among seven West Shore municipalities and two First Nations of which View Royal, population 10,408, pocketed about $2.3 million. Potential casino revenues for Victoria would be less, as a much smaller facility is envisioned.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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