Opponents of a proposed casino in South Surrey outnumbered supporters by a 20:1 ratio at a Sunday afternoon public forum at the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club.
About 80 people attended the event organized by Susan Keeping, the BC NDP candidate for the election next spring.
When one questioner asked how many casino supporters were in the audience, only four raised their hands.
One of them was Cliff Annable, the executive director of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Annable said the local business community is “totally supportive” of the proposed $100-million casino, hotel and convention centre complex at 10 Avenue and 168 Street.
Annable said that among other benefits, the facility would give local sporting and charitable groups a place to accommodate large turnouts for fundraisers, instead of having them go outside of the area.
“We could all use a bigger venue,” Annable said. “They’re currently not available.”
Annable’s was a minority view.
Most speakers were like local resident Martin Cooper, who predicted the project would ruin the character of the area.
“Why are you intent on destroying our rural community of South Surrey?” he demanded.
The question was directed at two representatives of the company hoping to build the casino, who both spoke at the event.
Gateway Casinos and Entertainment community liaison Tanya Gabara described the proposed complex as a “world-class” facility more than once during her presentation. She said Surrey has a “sorely underserved” gaming and entertainment market.
Gateway general counsel James Chen defended the project as a boost to the local economy that will bring jobs and other long-term benefits.
“We create jobs and we pay taxes,” he said. “And we pay taxes to all three levels of government.”
According to Gateway and BC Lottery Corporation projections, the complex could produce $6 million in revenues annually for Surrey alone.
Preliminary designs call for a landscaped complex that includes a 60,000-sq.-ft. gaming floor, an 800-seat theatre, a 27,000-sq.-ft. convention and entertainment zone, a 200-room, four-star hotel, four restaurants and three lounges.
The $100-million facility would occupy 18 acres of a 25-acre parcel at 10 Avenue and 168 Street.
BCLC has suggested the complex, if approved by the city, could be open as soon as late 2014.
At the Sunday forum, several critics said the impact of the project on local residents has not been properly assessed.
Grant Laporte said he isn’t looking forward to spending his retirement next to “24 hours of glitz and lights and traffic and noise.”
Terry McNeice, of the South Surrey Ratepayers Association, said residents were kept in the dark about the plans until recently.
“There has been no transparency, no communication,” McNeice said. “We are at the 11th hour. It’s criminal.”
Chen disputed this, saying the company has done everything it can to let people know.
“We’re not trying to hide anything from anybody,” Chen said. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible.”
In response to a questioner who worried about increased crime, Chen said statistics from other Gateway casinos show police activity is, if anything, low.
While the back and forth continued, volunteers listed the arguments on large sheets of paper taped to the wall behind the podium. By the end of the two-hour meeting, there were 2½ pages of “pro” arguments and eight pages of “con.”
Keeping will hold another forum on Wednesday morning, 7:30-8:30 a.m. at the ABC Restaurant, 2160 King George Blvd.
Gateway will hold its own information meeting Wednesday, 6-9 p.m. at Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club, 18150 8 Ave.