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City moving to pull slots from Newton

Surrey is working to have slot machines removed from this bingo hall. - File
Surrey is working to have slot machines removed from this bingo hall.
— image credit: File

Surrey is moving to pull the plugs on the Newton slot machines, after the company running them has blown a deadline for construction.

Mayor Dianne Watts told her colleagues at council on Monday the city will call the BC Lottery Corporation and request they pull the 150 one-armed bandits at the Newton Square Country Bingo Hall at 7093 King George Blvd.

The mayor said Monday Gateway Casinos and Entertainment has blown a deadline under its Project Development Agreement (PDA), and therefore is in breach of its conditions to have slots at the bingo hall.

The PDA states that "Gateway will obtain a building permit by May 1, 2013 and thereafter proceed with construction in a timely manner through to completion of a redevelopment of the existing Newton Bingo Hall site," according to a October, 2012 corporate report to council.

Two building permits and two demolition permits have been issued, city sources say. The demolition on two buildings has been partially done, but construction hasn't occurred at the site.

It's that fact that Surrey is hinging its argument of a breach and demanding the slot machines be removed.

The Newton property was the subject of a highly contentious public hearing in 2009, when gaming critics were pitted against not-for-profit organizations, which rely heavily on gaming revenues.

After a marathon meeting, council passed the gaming expansion in Newton on a five-to-four vote, even though it contravened the city's own gaming policy.

Those who voted for the Newton casino were Mayor Dianne Watts and Couns. Linda Hepner, Tom Gill and Barbara Steele and then-Coun. Judy Higginbotham.

Subsequently, the company that won the rezoning later flipped the property to Gateway.

The promise of $25 million worth of improvements on the property died with the change in ownership.

Since then, the level of city support for the Newton casino has waned considerably.

"If you're asking me if I would be sad that it moved? No," Watts told The Leader in May, 2012. "I just think that the Newton site was not appropriate, and I know that many of us struggled with that site, but supported it because the non-profits were (previously) getting the dollars."

The bold move to remove the slots is reminiscent of the battle waged by former Mayor Doug McCallum against Newton slots in 1997.

After about $300,000 in legal fees between the city and the province, Surrey eventually won a decision to have them removed.

Those 191 slots were a block away from the current one-armed bandits.

Gateway spokesperson Tanya Garbara said Tuesday the gaming firm is planning to proceed with development as planned. The challenge, she said, is getting the necessary permits from the city.

Asked if she's willing to go court if BCLC refuses, Watts just said she would wait for the lottery corporation's response.

History of slots in Surrey

1988: Great Canadian Casino opens in Newton

1997: Great Canadian Casino introduces slots

1998: Slot machines are shut down in Newton, under political pressure and court challenges

2001: Newton casino shuts down

2004: Slot machines added to casino at Fraser Downs in Cloverdale

2009: Casino zoning allowed for Newton at 7093 King George Blvd.

2012: Casino owner considers closing Newton Casino in favor of a larger facility in South Surrey

2013: South Surrey casino voted down on a split vote

2014: Surrey council asking to have slots removed from Newton anyway

@diakiw

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