Casino plan opposed

Cloverdale’s business leaders are coming out in force against a new casino proposed for South Surrey.

The entrance to the new poker room at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino.

The entrance to the new poker room at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino.

Breaking ranks with the Surrey Board of Trade, Cloverdale’s business leaders are coming out in force against a new casino proposed for South Surrey, arguing it would hurt the local economy – and the horse racing industry.

The Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce and the Cloverdale BIA have announced their unanimous support for Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino as Surrey’s primary casino, and are requesting a meeting with B.C. Lottery Corporation officials.

The business associations were reacting to news that BCLC officials revealed to Surrey Board of Trade members a new casino has been green lighted for South Surrey – provided city council approves the plan.

BCLC officials Michael Graydon and Jim Lightbody revealed the new South Surrey casino could be up and running by 2014.

Such a plan would hurt Fraser Downs and, by extension, the Cloverdale economy, Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce president Brian Young said.

“The business community in Cloverdale is highly dependent on this anchor to bring in and keep the consumers in Cloverdale,” Young said.

On that front, the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce and Cloverdale BIA are backing an expansion of Fraser Downs as a destination casino with similar features to Boulevard and River Rock casinos.

Young said it’s paramount Fraser Downs be given the first option to expand before any other casino license is granted because of the important role the casino and racecourse plays in the Cloverdale economy.

The Cloverdale Chamber’s board of directors are asking to meet with BCLC. officials as soon as possible to address their concerns, and to ensure the Corporation is “well aware of the impact that your decisions will have on our business community,” Young said.

The groups are also asking to meet with mayor and council.

The South Surrey location is the planned site for a $100 million development, including a 200-suite, four to five star hotel, 600-seat convention centre and casino.

A destination casino in South Surrey “would cannibalize Fraser Downs’ ability to survive in the marketplace,” Cloverdale BIA president Lyle MacMillan said.

If built, Fraser Downs would have to compete with two large casinos nearby – Cascades Casino is in Langley – having a dramatic impact on the casino at Fraser Downs, and the horse racing industry, Cloverdale BIA president Lyle MacMillan said Monday.

“Cloverdale would be at the centre of the two,” MacMillan said. “They will be wiped out, or at least reduced to a large extent” in terms of gaming revenue.

And that in turn would impact racing revenues at Hastings Racecourse, which, like Fraser Downs, is owned by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.

“Horse racing is at a crossroad in B.C., and we cannot afford to lose this vital industry,” he said.

A competing South Surrey casino “will impact horse racing here and in Vancouver,” he said. “Both are going to suffer.”

A destination casino would also threaten any future expansion of the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, he warned.

“The city has intended to expand the fairgrounds considerably as well,” MacMillan said.

The Cloverdale business groups backed Fraser Downs’ initial bid to expand the racetrack into a casino, believing the gaming expansion was critical in order to save harness racing, an industry that employs hundreds of people locally, and thousands across the Fraser Valley and beyond.

The SBOT’s reaction would appear to be at odds with Cloverdale’s business community.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said the board was pleased to hear the announcement.

“If they knew that the Cloverdale one was anxious to progress into a much larger casino, they may not have made the decision that they did,” MacMillan said.