Victoria selected to host capital region’s second casino

Victoria has won the contest to host a second casino in the capital region, beating out Saanich.

But the existing casino in View Royal, which is to be expanded, will remain the primary gaming facility in the region, the B.C. Lottery Corp. has decided.

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Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps called the BCLC announcement “a win for everybody” while View Royal Mayor David Screech — who had been lobbying vigorously against a downtown gaming site that he feared would kill the View Royal casino — said he’s “cautiously optimistic.”

“I think if you put a full-size casino in the Douglas Street corridor somewhere, it would have a devastating effect to the View Royal one. But a secondary facility is another matter,” Screech said.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. I think we’re cautiously optimistic that Lotteries is working toward a proposal that is going to work for everybody involved.”

Great Canadian Gaming had plans for a $20-million expansion of its View Royal facility, but put those on hold last fall when BCLC announced it was considering a second site closer to downtown Victoria. Screech said BCLC has committed to basing the size of the new Victoria casino on the size of an expanded View Royal facility.

“So I think they’ve really acknowledged publicly that the View Royal Casino is going to be the primary gaming facility in the region and that’s really what we’ve been after all along,” Screech said.

BCLC president and CEO Jim Lightbody said improvements are being looked at for the View Royal site.

“Once that’s determined, that really informs the [request for proposal] we’ll put forward for a new service provider for the second location, to understand the size and scope. The second location in the City of Victoria will be built to suit the market.”

Lightbody said the evaluation team that made the decision between the two municipalities was overseen by “a third-party fairness monitor.”

Among factors considered was the fact that Victoria is farther from the View Royal casino, he said, meaning it would likely have the least impact on that site.

“[Also considered] was where could we find a location that had strong population density and [the] city of Victoria definitely had that.”

It is also closer to “tourism opportunities,” Lightbody said.

He said evaluators also looked at whether either municipality mentioned gaming in their Official Community Plan. Victoria does and Saanich does not, he said.

Depending on how things unfold, a completed casino could be a couple of years away, Lightbody said. There will be plenty of public consultation during the process, he said.

Victoria council has identified the Crystal Garden and the adjacent Apex lot as potential sites. Helps noted that BCLC didn’t name a potential site in its announcement. “I think the next steps are that they will choose an operator and then that operator will identify a site or sites, and then that would come to council and the public in the same way that any land-use application would,” Helps said. “I’m not tied to the Crystal Garden. I’m curious to see what a private operator would identify.”

No site in Victoria is zoned for a casino, so any potential location would require rezoning. City policy mandates that a casino cannot be a stand-alone facility and has to instead be part of another use, such as a hotel.

“I think it’s a potentially exciting opportunity,” Helps said.

It’s also potentially lucrative. A host municipality receives 10 per cent of a casino’s net take to offset costs associated with hosting a gaming house.

Victoria staff has noted in a report to council that the annual revenue potential for a casino is initially expected to be $30 million to $45 million, meaning the city would stand to pocket between $1.8 million and $2.5 million a year.

Victoria had been short-listed with Saanich as potential host municipalities for a second casino. Saanich had put forward sites near Uptown or in the Burnside-Tillicum area.

Saanich officials felt they were treated well in the selection process, said Saanich Coun. Susan Brice, the acting mayor. Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell was not available for comment.

“I think we felt all along that both bids were given consideration, felt well-respected,” Brice said. “I was disappointed but not necessarily surprised, I certainly wish Victoria well.

“I think Victoria probably had a good bid and I think it will be good for the region.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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