Saanich rejects casino: 'It came down to values,' mayor says

Saanich council has unanimously rejected the idea of a casino in the municipality, after agreeing to consider it two years ago.

“It came down to values, I think,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes. He said a Saanich casino could have generated $2.5 million to $3 million a year for the municipality.

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“We started to get a much greater community response, on both the positive and the negative, the pros and the cons,” he said. “The cons would be around money laundering, the deleterious effects of gambling addiction on a family, etc. The pros would be the economic-development side around entertainment, hotels.”

The concept was to build a casino in the east part of the municipality — away from the region’s other casino in View Royal — as part of a complex that included a hotel and other amenities.

Council voted unanimously in March 2019 to consider a casino development, an opportunity that grew out of Victoria and Saanich being on a short list for a licence for a second regional casino in 2015.

“But [the B.C. Lottery Corporation] went to Victoria as their choice,” Haynes said. When Victoria declined, citing potential illegal activity, BCLC approached Saanich to see if it was still interested.

Then in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and “the bottom fell out of the world, and it’s still not back yet,” he said.

“So for Saanich, no further action was taken. The last year plus has been spent delivering essential care and services to our residents.”

BCLC reconnected with Saanich in the first part of 2021, Haynes said, and talk about the casino began again. Both Haynes and Coun. Susan Brice said in March they backed the casino, a stance Haynes said was tied to the March 2019 vote from council.

At the time, Haynes said casino revenue could finance much-needed infrastructure such as a new ice rink and bike park and more sidewalks.

“Listening to everybody, it’s important to be able to change your mind,” he said Tuesday.

Haynes said councillors did considerable research leading up to Monday’s vote. “They were talking to people, talking to residents and doing their own online studies.”

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she feels council’s final decision reflects what Saanich residents want.

“That’s my sense from the community input we received,” she said. “It seems generally residents weren’t supportive of the idea of a casino. They don’t feel it fit our vision for the community, and I tend to agree with that.”

Stuart Macpherson, president of the Falaise Community Association, said the issue wasn’t discussed formally among members but many expressed their disapproval of a casino. “They didn’t think it was appropriate for Saanich.”

Macpherson said the location was also a concern, since it was being pegged for east Saanich, which could have led to increased traffic on the already busy Royal Oak Drive, he said.

Haynes said council’s vote means the casino idea won’t be coming back for another look.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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