BC Place Casino gets approved

On Monday, Vancouver’s development permit board backed a proposal from Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming LLC that will see the company and Toronto-based partner Dundee Corporation, its financial backer, build a casino complex on provincially-owned land, next to BC. Place stadium, another Crown asset.

Final approval requires a few minor fixes to the current build proposal, and some promises from Paragon, that it will run the giant gambling house in a “socially responsible” manner. That means limiting the number of automated cash dispensers placed on the gambling floor, refusing to serve drinks to over-freshed patrons, and reminding customers to refrain from pissing away their life savings if at all possible.

Another glass box, the Edgewater Casino was originally built for Expo 86 festivities, not for gambling

Paragon’s “urban resort” will house said casino, a hotel, and shops and restaurants. It is a curious design, all glass and steel and shaped like an ottoman placed upside down, stumpy legs pushing into the air. The company says the “volumetric composition of the complex reflects the landscape of its mountains, escarpment, gorges and valley…The sharp forms of the project portray the excitement of the activities of the interior, while the porosity of the facades permits a direct exchange with the city.” Critics including former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian say it needs work.

The volumetrically-composed complex is to replace the company’s current facility that operates on False Creek. Another glass box, the Edgewater Casino was originally built for Expo 86 festivities, not for gambling. Paragon slags the place, calling it a “substandard ‘slot house’ casino” that’s “more typically found in truck stops or industrial areas and is not the type of gaming experience the Applicant wants to present in downtown Vancouver.”

Les Bazso / PNG staff
Les Bazso / PNG staff The Edgewater Casino

What do Vancouverites want? Really, who cares? After all their campaign trail bleating against casino expansion during the last municipal elections, in 2011, Mayor Gregor Robertson and his ruling slate of left-wing councillors have buckled to the developers. The proposed replacement casino will be twice the size of the gauche Edgewater. That’s an expansion of sorts, but Mayor Robertson defends the new project, saying it won’t break the current city-imposed limit of 600 slot machines and 75 table games placed on Vancouver casinos.

Paragon insists it has no plan to challenge the existing slot machine and table game limit. The Edgewater is “not capable at any one time of offering the full complement” of games allowed, and it barely turns a profit, having declared bankruptcy once already. Hence the need to get bigger.

When Paragon moved into the old Expo site in 2006, it imagined returns to the city of $10 million to $12 million a year. In fiscal 2012, it delivered just $6.1 in royalties to city hall. And Paragon once arranged to pay PavCo, the Crown corporation that controls B.C. Place and the proposed casino site next door, annual lease payments of $6 million. The figure now under discussion is $3 million per year. How this can benefit taxpayers–the province’s debt holders–is a mystery.

It’s been all smoke and mirrors since Paragon arrived on the scene. Milquetoast protests from city politicians were meaningless. A bigger casino is coming, make no mistake, so prepare for the new Vancouver landscape: Glass boxes, bent promises, busted dreams.

National Post

bhutchinson@nationalpost.com