Public debates merit of slot machine expansion

The slot machine expansion debate dominated Monday night’s Abbotsford council meeting.

About 150 people, many wearing “YES” stickers,  turned out to the public hearing on a proposal to allow Playtime Gaming to increase the number of slot machines at its Chances Community Gaming Centre from the current 125 up to a maximum of 300.

Twenty-nine people spoke in favour of the expansion while eight voiced opposition during the session, which lasted two and a half hours.

Many of the 72 community groups which receive local gaming money from Chances, through the Abbotsford Bingo Association – a partner with Playtime – were on hand to voice support.

David Sheach, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fraser Valley, said charitable groups use gaming revenue for the “social benefit of local citizens and families.”

Other speakers questioned whether the city had the right to say no.

Aird Flavelle pointed out Chances is an existing business, and wondered why the city was involved in a decision to expand.

Flavelle said no other business would face this kind of scrutiny.

“Are you going to tell a bus company that they shouldn’t expand because you feel cars are better?

“Keep your morals to yourself,” said Flavelle.

However, those opposed felt morals were an important part of the debate.

“What else does the casino bring to the town? It will bring the skin trade, it will bring all kinds of drug addictions, homelessness,” said Kuldip Mann, who told council to look at the long-term problems that may occur from additional slot machines.

As for the funding going to charitable groups, Mann called it “blood money.”

Aeriol Alderking maintained, “Problem gambling separates families.”

She called gambling a “tax on the most vulnerable members of our society.

“The greatest hypocrisy is those of you who claim to have shared values with the faith community in order to garner votes, only to betray those values now that you are in office,” said Alderking.

As she continued, the crowd began to jeer, prompting Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman to quiet the crowd and call for  “common respect and decency.”

While Mann also raised the concern of a casino, Marsha Walden, a vice-president with the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said more slots would not lead to a full-size casino for Abbotsford.

“Even if we were able to capture 100 per cent of the potential in the marketplace of Abbotsford, that would only generate about $42 million. And that is significantly below the $100-million threshold that we would need to successfully operate a large-size casino in this market.”

Currently, the city receives close to $1 million annually from Chances, for hosting the gaming centre.

That amount would rise as the number of machines increased.

Council will debate the slot expansion at its next meeting on April 2.

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