How the Arts Brought Down the Mega Casino
If the B.C. government had never cut the arts groups out of Direct Access gaming grants, that Vegas-style casino might just have been a done deal after all—and the province would be reaping in an estimated $231 million a year from the site. (Currently, the Edgewater casino brings in $120 million a year. A 2009 report prepared by consultant HLT Advisory for the B.C. Lottery Corporation suggested the proposed expanded casino could generate an additional $132 million.)
In March of last year, the province announced changes to community gaming grant sectors, stating adult arts and culture, adult sports, environmental groups and school playgrounds would not receive funding in 2010-2011. The new eligibility rules came after the announcement in August 2009 that only a limited number arts and culture groups would be funded. (The province also attempting to tear up agreements with arts groups who had multiyear funding commitments, but ended up backtracking when the threat of legal action loomed).
But the arts fought back. They mobilized, joined with the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming, and on October 14, 2010, they staged their first protest outside city hall. They demanded the city stop its review of gaming applications until the B.C. government promises to adhere to its 1999 memorandum of agreement with the BCACG, which sets the charitable share of gaming proceeds at 33 percent—just as the city was preparing to consider plans for an expanded Edgewater Casino adjacent to B.C. Place.
In March 2010, when Premier Gordon Campbell announced the major casino proposal for the land around the stadium, little opposition was voiced and there were few protests in the June open houses on the plan. It all looked like a done deal—until the arts got their back up and started asking the province to answer for their cuts to gaming grants in the wake of increased gambling revenues.
Soon, resident groups—the False Creek Residents Association, Strathcona Residents’ Association, and the Grandview Woodland Area Counci—joined the Alliance for Arts and Culture and the BCACG in opposition to the casino expansion, creating the Vancouver not Vegas coalition. and suddenly, what might have been a fairly routine rezoning process for the city turned into eight full days of public hearings, with over a hundred speakers signed up. Medical health officers and police turned up to voice their opposition and concerns about the mega-casino, alongside renowned architect Bing Thom, former city councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner, and former NPA council candidate Sean Bickerton.
The province probably never realized what a gamble it took when cutting funding for the arts. The arts, in turn, upped the ante—and brought down the house of cards