Kevin MILLS and Neil CORBETT
Playtime Gaming is requesting that council lift its limit on slots and personal play bingo machines at the Chances Community Gaming Centre, but the public will have a say first.
Presently, Chances is allowed a maximum of 125 slot machines and 192 personal play bingo machines. That caveat was placed on Playtime in 2009, when the former Abbotsford Bingo Hall at 30835 Peardonville Rd. underwent a $6-million renovation, and reopened as a Community Gaming Centre (CGC).
Playtime is also asking for a liquor licence at Chances.
With council advancing the issue, staff will now prepare an amendment to the zoning bylaw, to permit more slot machines and allow a liquor primary permit. Should it pass first reading, that bylaw will require a public hearing.
Art Villa, Playtime’s coordinator of business development, said there is no target for the number of machines. The new maximum would be set by the B.C. Lottery Corporation, if council lifts its covenant. However, Playtime told council a total of 180 slot machines would meet demand.
“Certainly we can add machines here, and we can probably add a significant number,” said Villa. According to the BC Lottery Corporation website, Chances Abbotsford made $10.8 million from its slots and almost $1.4 million from bingo in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said Playtime representatives informed council they can’t keep up with the demand.
“They have more people wanting to play the machines, than slot machines themselves,” he said.
Peary said people shouldn’t be surprised by the request, noting when the previous council made the “big decision” to allow slot machines, expansion was sure to follow. As for the size of the increase, Peary doesn’t know how many slot machines could be held in the facility, but estimated between 250 and 300.
“All that can be decided today (Monday) is to allow the people to discuss the pros and cons of the issue.”
The city gets 10 per cent of the revenue made from gambling, and in 2010 that amounted to $818,000, which is 10 per cent of the net revenue (not gross revenue) from slots. With expansion to 180 slots, that number would rise by an estimated $150,000.
Under provincial regulations, Playtime also contributed $4.3 million to 73 Abbotsford charities and local groups.
Coun. Simon Gibson cautioned against council thinking that money was a windfall for Abbotsford.
“The mint isn’t printing more money – all that money comes from families’ budgets,” he said.
Villa compared Abbotsford with Kamloops. In the Interior city, with a population of 80,000 (based on 2006 census), there are 500 slot machines at a gaming centre (200) and a casino (300). Abbotsford, with 124,000 population, has 125 slots. He added that a customer satisfaction survey from the summer showed 89 per cent of Chances’ patrons wanted a greater variety of slot machines.
He said there are numerous casinos and gaming centres in the Lower Mainland within an hour’s drive of Abbotsford, and another six in Washington State within easy driving distance. People wanting to gamble have a variety of choices.
“We’re trying to keep them here,” he said. “It’s important for us to be able to service the market. If you maintain the status quo, you will lose your customers.”
There has been strong public opposition to slot machines in Abbotsford in the past. Asked if he expects opposition to his expansion, Villa responded “Gambling is always a topical, contentious type of issue.” However, he said it is now generally accepted by the public.
“Gambling is a recognized social activity in Canada now,” Villa said. “It’s big business. It’s here to stay.”
On Monday, Couns. Les Barkman and Dave Loewen joined Gibson in speaking against more slots.
“I’m of the view that there is a momentum building here to increase gambling in our community … it’s a hollow dream,” said Gibson.