New Vancouver casino will be limited to 600 slot machines and 75 gaming tables, the same as the much-smaller Edgewater.01 Jan 2001

The $535-million development includes two Marriott hotel towers, 550 hotel rooms, five restaurants, retail outlets, 50,000 square feet of meeting space and the casino floor. Construction will take 30 months, with completion expected in 2016.

The Wynn Hotel is one of the fanciest casinos on the famous Las Vegas strip, where the man who wants to bring a bit of Vegas to Vancouver sees inspiration everywhere he looks.“A development like this should be beautiful and exciting — and that’s what we’re bringing to Vancouver,” said Scott Menke, the Vegas-based businessman poised to build the largest casino in western Canada next to B.C. Place stadium.

“When you look around here, you see inspired design everywhere,” Menke said during an interview at the opulent Wynn casino in Las Vegas.

“We’ll bring the same inspiration to Vancouver with a resort that will also connect to the city’s natural beauty,” he said.
“We’re going to build an amazing facility — something the city will be proud of.”

But not everybody in the city is celebrating. Anti-gambling forces have fought the B.C. Place casino every step of the way, and are now demanding legal limits on possible expansion of the facility down the road.

“The provincial health officer has made it clear: the more you expand gambling, the more gambling addiction you get,” said Sandy Garossino of the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition.

But Menke said the new B.C. Place Casino will win over doubters.

“It’s going to revitalize and enhance the city’s entertainment district,” he said. “People are going to love it.”

Menke is the president of Paragon Gaming, the Las Vegas-based company that already owns the Edgewater Casino in downtown Vancouver.
The company plans to transfer the existing Edgewater licence across the street to the new B.C. Place casino, which received a conditional development permit from the city on Dec. 16.

The $535-million development includes two Marriott hotel towers, 550 hotel rooms, five restaurants, retail outlets, 50,000 square feet of meeting space and, of course, the casino floor. Construction will take 30 months, with completion expected in 2016.

But there will be restrictions and conditions on the gambling operations.

The casino will be limited to 600 slot machines and 75 gaming tables, the same as the much-smaller Edgewater.
Paragon will also be required to work with city planners and the region’s chief medical officer to develop a harm-reduction plan aimed at addicted gamblers.

Forcing the company to develop an addiction plan was a deal-maker for the city, said Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“If they don’t, it cannot proceed,” Robertson said, adding he expects the plan will address access to alcohol and ATM machines on the site.
But will it go further? Garossino’s group wants the new casino to have limited operating hours.

“There’s no reason to operate a casino 24 hours a day in Vancouver,” she said.
But Menke points out the Edgewater currently operates around the clock with no lack of customers.

“The Edgewater is doing great, but it’s a limited product,” he said. “It has 600 slot machines, 75 gaming tables and one snack bar. That really doesn’t give you the opportunity to service your clients or attract new customers.”

He pledged to bring in a gambling-addiction program that meets or exceeds expectations of city and health officials.
“That is one of our highest company goals,” he said.
The company originally wanted 1,500 slot machines and 150 gaming tables.
“We wanted more, but we made it work with what we have,” Menke said.

“We’re not expanding gaming. City council spoke. They said they didn’t want expanded gaming. We have respected that and they have respected us back.”

But Garossino and other anti-gambling forces think the developer has an ace up his sleeve.
At 72,000 square feet, the B.C. Place casino will be nearly double the floor space of the 37,000-square-foot Edgewater.
With that much new floor space, what’s to stop the casino from moving in more slot machines and gaming tables later?
“Their current square footage per slot machinbe is already at the highest ratio,” Garassino points out.
“The most luxurious casino properties have the same number of slot machines per square foot as the current size of Edgewater.”
But Paragon has plans for all that new space, Menke said.

“We’ll fill that with bars, different types of entertainment, merchandise, displays, food and beverage disbursement — all improving customer service and the entertainment value of the space,” he said.

Garossino’s group wants Paragon to sign a legal covenant to prevent further expansion, but Menke said any expansion will be up to the city and province.

“It’s not our decision,” he said. “We will always deal with the municipality and the provincial government within the guidelines they set down.”

In other words, that doesn’t rule out expanded casino operations later _ though he emphasizes other aspects of the project.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” he said. “Visitors will have convenient access to B.C. Place and Rogers arena. You can stay at the hotel and walk to the game. More convenient access to the sea wall and Yaletown. The area is going to flourish.”
And then there’s the promised jobs, which has also attracted skepticism.

“We know what it takes to create good jobs,” said Lynn Flandera of Unite Here Local 40, the B.C. union for hotel and hospitality workers. “Is Paragon really the right company to take on this project? We think No.”

But Menke said the jobs are coming: 4,500 construction jobs during the building phase and 2,300 permanent jobs when the resort reaches full operation.

“That’s a lot of good-paying jobs,” he said. “That’s very key in this conversation.”
British Columbians — especially Vancouver residents — will be able to decide for themselves, as the controversial project moves ahead in 2014.

twitter.com/MikeSmythNews