After a long debate Monday, a divided council voted to permit Playtime Gaming, which runs Chances Community Gaming Centre on Peardonville Road, to more than double its current allotment of slots.
The number has been raised from 125 machines to a maximum of 275.
Originally, the proposed slot increase was to be based on available floor space. That would have allowed as many as 300 machines.
However, Coun. Bill MacGregor said he was uncomfortable with that definition, asking what would happen if improved technology could allow for smaller slot machines.
“That number could vault forward with reduction of size of machines, could it not?”
It was proposed to cap the number of machines at 275.
After a lengthy discussion, a 5-4 vote gave second and third reading to the bylaw change and new slot machine restrictions. A final reading, considered to be a formality, is expected at the next meeting.
Voting against the expansion were Couns. Simon Gibson, Henry Braun, Les Barkman and Dave Loewen.
“I’ve been opposed to the slots right from the get-go, on social and economic grounds, not moral grounds as so many in public feel,” said Loewen.
He said the social implications could be significant.
“We really don’t know the true cost to our communities from this type of gambling.”
He questioned exposing citizens to a form of gambling where “the odds are stacked against” them.
“We are putting this device before a segment of our population who can ill afford it; from which we should be expecting, according to research, a growing percentage of problem gambling in the years ahead.”
He called it market demand versus social conscience.
Like Loewen, Braun said his objections had nothing to do with his personal morals.
He said he found himself conflicted. He knows many local charities benefit from funding from the slots, but he also pondered whether council had some responsibility to those with gambling addictions and their families.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman voted in favour of the slot expansion, citing financial reasons.
“For me, I ended up voting in favour of this because, quite frankly, people were clear that they didn’t want their taxes higher. That means that the city has to look at new revenue streams. This is a revenue stream, pure and simple. It will pay quite a bit of money into the coffers of the city,” said Banman.
Last year, the city received more than $900,000 from slot machine revenues. It is expected to pass the $1 million mark next year.
Banman said he respects the opinion of other councillors and agreed that it is a societal issue.
“It does damage lives. But so do alcohol, cigarettes … I know people who are shopaholics …
“I don’t think anybody is suggesting that I close all the liquor stores or shut down the shopping malls because people have an issue that they’re spending all the money they don’t have.”
Art Villa, coordinator of business development for Playtime Gaming, said he’s glad the process is almost over.
He has been working on the expansion for more than two years.
However, he said players should not expect to see new machines immediately. The BC Lottery Corporation only intends to install 50 new machines at this point, and it could be years before the 275 maximum is reached.
He predicted it will be August before any new games are offered.