Saanich wants to be a player in next round of casino talks

Mayor Fred Haynes wants the B.C. Lottery Corp. to bet on Saanich for its next round of casino talks rather than soliciting interest from other municipalities.

Saanich council unanimously supported a motion asking staff to update a June 2016 report entitled British Columbia Lottery Corporation – Gaming Facility Expression of Interest.

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The request comes on the heels of Victoria turning down a casino over concerns of drugs, money laundering and organized crime in Lower Mainland casinos.

“By this expression of interest for a report, I’m hoping the B.C. Lottery Corporation recognize there is a return of our interest and, than rather than go to a broad expression of interest to other municipalities, that Saanich would have an advantage in this situation,” Haynes said during Monday’s council meeting.

“A casino is likely to come here — if the market bears that and if there is an acceptance of the expression of interest — so why would this go to the West Shore or some other city when Saanich was second in line in the previous competition.”

Saanich would only consider a casino with amenities such as a hotel or entertainment centre with about 1,200 seats and is interested in revenues that would reduce the tax pressure on residences and businesses.

“It’s something we’d at least like to keep on the table and pursue if it made sense for Saanich,” Coun. Susan Brice, who introduced the motion, said in an interview.

“If this council was interested in pursuing [a casino], it would need current information.”

Coun. Ned Taylor seconded the request at Monday’s meeting, saying he supports “more information — and that’s really what this motion is going for.”

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she is learning that in politics there are times when “you have to set aside, at least for a moment, your personal feelings or judgments that you may have in order to fully evaluate items with an open mind.”

Mersereau said she looks forward to discussing the many possible benefits, including amenities that could be developed in conjunction with a gaming facility, and possible downsides.

View Royal is home to the region’s only casino, Elements Casino.

B.C. Lottery Corp. announced in 2015 that it was considering a second casino closer to downtown Victoria. It considered preliminary expressions of interest from Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich, Oak Bay, and the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations.

Victoria and Saanich were short-listed. Saanich said Uptown centre or the edge of the Tillicum-Burnside centre would be the best candidates for a casino full-service facility with additional amenities such as a restaurant, lounge, theatre and community stage for live entertainment.

The lottery corporation chose Victoria. “I figured that was it,” Brice said.

However, in December 2018, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps recommended the city withdraw its support to host a casino, citing concerns about money laundering.

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.

Victoria councillors voted in January to defer indefinitely whether or not to consider hosting a facility.

Brice said an updated report need not be onerous or lengthy.

“We have a whole new council so we can’t make any assumptions what their positions would be, but at least we should find out if B.C. Lottery Corporation is even looking,” Brice said.

BCLC spokeswoman Lara Gerrits said the lottery corporation is aware of the District of Saanich’s notice of motion regarding its interest.

“BCLC is considering potential next steps for the Greater Victoria region, in which several local governments initially expressed interest in hosting a casino,” Gerrits said in an email. “We are taking the necessary time to do that.”

Casinos can be money makers for local governments. Host municipalities receive a percentage of casino revenue, which can offset additional costs to municipalities such as policing or community facilities.

In View Royal, that means about $4 million a year shared among seven municipalities and two First Nations.

The extra revenue provides the communities with funds for libraries and recreation centres, Brice said.

Haynes said it’s hoped Saanich’s initiative to update its report will give the district a “leg up or a head start.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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