B.C. charities are upping the ante in their fight against a proposal to build the province’s largest casino in downtown Vancouver.
Over 9,000 B.C. residents signed a petition released by the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming Nov. 16., complaining that charities are being cheated by the provincial government around gambling revenue.
They say the city should withhold consideration of the Edgewater Casino’s major downtown expansion until funding concerns are resolved.
At issue is the proportion of gaming funds allocated to charities, said Susan Marsden, president of the BCACG.
The B.C. government promised in 1999 to dedicate one third of gambling proceeds to community groups and non-profits, she said. But it reduced the share this year to 10 per cent—roughly $112 million of a net $1.08 billion, according to the BC Lottery Corporation’s 2010 annual report.
“We have an agreement…that makes people feel good about gaming because they feel they’re supporting the charities,”Marsden said. “The problem is we have an agreement that the government isn’t living up to.”
Related: The proposal process for new casino
The gaming complex proposed for construction on downtown provincial property would house 1,500 slot machines and 150 games tables, compared to the 493 and 65, respectively, currently at Edgewater Casino.
Edgewater became the first casino in B.C. to be foreign-owned when it was purchased by Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming in 2006.
It will relocate—or rather its gaming licence will—to a small plot of land next to the also Paragon-operated BC Place Stadium. It hopes to make the move across the street from its current location at the Plaza of Nations in Northeast False Creek in 2013, pending city council approval.
Triple gambling opportunities
The petition follows Premier Gordon Campbell’s March announcement of a new 780,000 square-foot entertainment complex featuring glass curtain walls, copper-clad towers and direct access to the provincially owned BC Place.
The casino portion of the proposed $450 million development will triple the gambling capacity of the Edgewater, and will include two hotels, a mega-casino, five restaurants, a theatre and a cabaret.
The municipality, by granting or denying a development permit, will decide whether the property is an appropriate use for the skyline-altering complex and whether gambling should be expanded in the city.
“I think these people have some valid criticisms,” said Coun. Ellen Woodsworth, referring to B.C. charities. “I think city hall should get a meeting of the provincial government with these organizations so that it can be resolved before it has to come before city council.”
Council is expected to announce public consultations for 2011.
Betting on empty
Project Literacy runs one-to-one tutoring in Kelowna for adults who have trouble reading and writing in English.
Barb Hagan, executive director of the community non-profit, worries about the impact of this year’s funding cuts—$65,000 worth—on the 600-plus adult learners served by the program.
“Things are so serious that we are looking at potentially having to cease operations within three to six months,” Hagan said. “Project Literacy has been here for 24 years, and we’re not sure we’re going to reach our 25th.”
Funding reductions erased 40 per cent of Project Literacy’s budget, Hagan said. It is in debt and increasingly dependent on its 150 volunteer tutors, without the resources to train the 75 replacement tutors it requires yearly, she added.
“What’s happening now is that we’ve had to postpone training, so the ripple effect is we won’t have enough tutors to serve the clients,” she said.
A big increase in the number of requests for Project Literacy’s services in the past four years means a diminishing share of potential adult learners receive their desired education, she said.
“The numbers keep climbing, and the financial resources to support them keep dropping.”
“When you think of the 600 men and women who can’t get jobs because they don’t have the essential literary skills, who can’t get into academic programs…what’s going to happen to all these people? It’s very, very serious,” Hagan said.
The big blind
Marsden demanded in October that the city stop its review of gaming applications, particularly for Edgewater, until the B.C. government committed to adhere to its 1999 agreement with the BCACG, which represents roughly 6,800 charities across the province.
“We will not be played like fools,” Marsden said. “We want our fair share of gaming funds….We let the government use our good name to sell gaming expansion to the municipalities, and we were duped.”
The 33 per cent of gaming revenues originally agreed to was slotted to support groups for the elderly and disabled and for sports, cultural and environmental sectors, among others.
The Burnaby Lyric Opera, which serves as a training space for opera students and budding professionals, faces severe cuts next year but little information on the state of its future.
“The province hasn’t been very forthcoming at all,” said director Linda Marie Jones. “The rumours of course are rampant.”
“Without government funding, there really is no way that we could keep the opera company going, not in the way that it is going right now,” she said.
Community organization downsizing or closure may heavily impact those who rely on their services.