District of Saanich may not be ready just yet to roll the dice on a potential casino complex, but it appears councillors are ready to talk about the idea in a more formal environment.
Saanich councillors will discuss for the very first time the possibility of a hotel, casino and entertainment complex in the community at a special council meeting on April 26. They may also vote on a motion to support the idea “in principle.”
Should that happen, district staff would also send a letter to the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) informing them of council’s will to move forward on the idea.
BCLC has been seeking to build a new casino and entertainment complex in the Capital Regional District for years. Although Saanich had expressed interest in the idea back in 2015, Victoria was selected by BCLC as the preferred site for such a venue until that city’s council opted against engaging with the corporation in 2019.
Then in March 2020, the corporation sent the District of Saanich a letter saying it was ready to go “all-in” with discussions about a potential site for a casino complex but then the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in B.C. and the idea has been on hold ever since.
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“This is not a decision to have a casino. It’s a decision to explore the pros and cons of what a casino could mean for Saanich, both in terms of benefits and the cons,” he said.
Details about the size, scope and location of a new casino complex or what BCLC’s overall vision for the project this time around aren’t known, at least not publicly.
However, Haynes said because Elements Casino is located nearby in View Royal, the likely spot for a casino in Saanich would be somewhere east of Blanshard Street. He also said he is keen on exploring the idea further as the district needs to expand its tax base and consider all economic opportunities.
“For a city of our size, we need to look at all opportunities for revenue diversification,” he said. “78 per cent of our tax base is on our residents. Other municipalities our size have a much different ratio. So we’re looking at economic development as a way to reduce the tax pressure on our residents.”
Haynes also said he doesn’t believe the issues that often come with casinos such as addiction or money laundering would arise in a smaller community like Saanich.
“Elements Casino out in View Royal [has] run problem-free for many, many years, and delivers significant benefits to those communities as well,” he said, adding that more people are gambling at home and that gaming in a “curated” and “well-managed” environment is “one of the healthiest forms of enjoying” such an experience.
At the end of the day, Haynes stressed that Monday’s meeting is all about taking “council’s temperature” on the interest in exploring the opportunity of a casino in the community.
“It’s about identifying what the opportunity is and the process that would be in place to give a fair hearing to all sides of this,” he said. “All sides have the opportunity.”
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