A major barrier to the planned $20-million expansion of the View Royal Casino has been lifted.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation announced Friday that the City of Victoria was selected over Saanich as the preferred local government to host a new gaming facility for the region. The corporation also clarified the View Royal Casino will remain the primary gaming operation in Greater Victoria.
The size and scope of the new facility, for which business proposals have yet to be tendered, will depend on the existing casino’s redevelopment plans, BCLC stated.
“That’s the type of certainty we hadn’t heard up until last week … That’s why we were waiting for this to play out,” said Jim Keeling, vice-president of stakeholder relations and responsible gaming for Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which operates the casino.
Plans to redevelop and expand the View Royal Casino have been in the works since 2008, he said, but were shelved after the recession hit. In the past 18 to 24 months an improved market has seen those plans rekindled, but Great Canadian wanted more certainty about what BCLC envisioned for Greater Victoria before it would move forward with a proposal, Keeling said. “We just needed more definition about what’s going on in the marketplace.”
Last month Coun. Leif Wergeland was the only Saanich councillor to vote against forwarding Saanich’s submission to host a potential gambling site. He was happy to hear the news this week that Victoria will instead be the focus of a gaming facility.
“We have a great council, but the only thing that we were looking at was location, and we hear about the $1.5 to $2 million we might make, yet, if even two to three families are impacted negatively by [gambling addiction], is it worth it,” said Wergeland. “And I say no.”
Before the View Royal Casino was approved, Saanich turned away the idea of hosting the casino.
Saanich’s Red Lion Inn was once in the running, before Saanich then amended its bylaws.
While the Great Canadian Gaming Casino’s plans for the site have not been publicly revealed, Keeling said the company’s proposal to BCLC “will be much more for the entertainment seeker than the gambler” and will “emphasize non-gaming amenities” to appeal to gamblers and non-gamblers alike.
View Royal Mayor David Screech, whose municipality enjoys the largest share of casino revenue – about $1.84 million last year alone – among five West Shore jurisdictions, plus Esquimalt, Sooke and the Ktunaxa First Nations, has been one of the most vocal opponents of any plan to build a second casino in the region. He was pleased with the decision that emerged from meetings last week.
“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said of an expanded casino and the possibility of a showroom-style theatre, which Great Canadian has successfully developed in some of its facilities on the mainland.
As long as BCLC maintains its commitment to keep View Royal the primary facility for the region, Screech said, the situation looks very positive all round. He and Langford Mayor Stew Young attended meetings on Friday with BCLC and representatives of Great Canadian. The mayors have been actively lobbying BCLC to look at helping the View Royal Casino expand rather than watering down the regional gambling market – and its community benefits.
“There seems to be an understanding that they will build the (Victoria) facility in such a way that will protect both markets,” Screech said.
There is currently no land zoned to allow a casino in the City of Victoria. City policy also prohibits a standalone casino operation, stipulating that such a facility must be an extension of an existing business, such as a hotel. Unless council changes that policy, a downtown site would almost certainly be smaller than an expanded View Royal Casino.
Asked whether he sensed this whole scenario was a way for BCLC to force Great Canadian to move on its expansion plans, Screech acknowledged there had been some frustration on BCLC’s part that the gaming company had not yet announced its plans.
BCLC president and CEO Jim Lightbody indicated it has been the lottery corporation’s plan all along to help promote an expansion of offerings in View Royal.
– With files from Travis Paterson