You may have already seen this op-ed ithat I wrote for the Sun. But if not …
Backsliding aside, here are some ways to make a new casino work for the community
I well remember the gambling issue when Steve Wynn’s Vegas-style casino proposal came before City Council in the 1990s, when Philip Owen was Mayor. My goodness, the outrage! Countless delegations came before Council, largely from the Left (Connie Fogal, COPE Alderman Harry Rankin’s wife, was leading the charge), adamant that there should be no tainting of Vancouver’s purity. And the NPA agreed. It was one of the few truly non-partisan issues: no casinos for Vancouver. (Bingo halls run by charities? – well, they were okay.)
So I suppose it’s not surprising that it was the Left that first undertook the necessary moral compromise to unleash the gambling scourge it had reviled a few years before. When the COPE Council under Mayor Larry Campbell authorized slots at Hastings Park in 2004, they sabotaged the opposition. (Imagine the protest if it was the Right that had reversed course.) Same at the Provincial level: the NDP expanded gambling over howls of Liberal protest, who then, with voices lowered, acquiesced to even more.
Apparently the filthy lucre is irresistible to whatever party is in power. Of course, gambling is reframed as an opportunity to do good works, to support charities, to fund the arts. At least initially. Then, when budgets are tight, the flow of cash is diverted to higher priorities.
So, given the likelihood that everyone will hold their noses, we’re going to get a big box next to B.C. Place for the express purpose of removing cash from the pockets of those prepared to depart with it. And the City will get a cut.
But that’s not enough. Already the City has seriously compromised itself. Instead of the basket of public amenities which previous Councils have required as a condition of approval for development along False Creek – parks, community centres, child care – we will get a roof on a provincial stadium. Presumably the amenities to serve the people actually living there will have to be paid for by other civic taxpayers, or, more likely, forgone.
That should not be the case with this particular cash machine. When it comes to the casino, the City should, in fact, have three requirements. First, no enclosed box, in which people are sucked inside and distracted while a cash appendectomy is performed. This development has to relate to its neighbourhood. No blank walls. Exceptional public art. Pedestrian connections all around B.C. Place.
Second, it has to be green, and we’re not talking about an influx of American dollars. We’re talking the highest level of sustainability ever achieved for a casino in the world. Period.
And finally, and most important, the casino should fund an extension of the streetcar, at least to Pacific Boulevard. It should have been a public embarrassment when the Bombardier streetcars used for the Olympic Line to Granville Island were returned to Brussels. But there’s no money, at least from TransLink, for funding a streetcar line that would join up every major tourist attraction in the city centre, and provide transit to neighbourhoods that have poor connections. So, as they did in Portland, Oregon, the businesses which receive a major benefit directly should help pay for a streetcar line – one that in this case will deliver customers directly to the casino’s door.
The people of Vancouver need something tangible and permanent if they are going to forgo other benefits for the Province’s casino. Something more than just the promise of cash in the future – something as easily compromised as the decision to refuse casinos was, back when everyone was pure.