Cloverdale’s business leaders are lending their support to the South Surrey casino proposal, citing assurances from government and gaming officials that the project will not be a detriment to Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, or the horse racing industry.
Both the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce and the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association issued a joint statement in support of the $100 million proposal Monday, a day ahead of their colleagues at the Surrey Board of Trade and the White Rock/South Surrey Chamber of Commerce.
In doing so, Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce president Addison Hubert said they hoped to demonstrate to Cloverdale residents – and the 400 employees who work inside and along the backstretch at Fraser Downs – that the proposed Gateway Casino and Entertainment Inc. complex will not harm their ability to make a living.
It’s a change of heart from earlier this year, when both the Chamber and the Cloverdale BIA pledged their support for Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino as Surrey’s primary casino, arguing it should have first crack at expansion before another casino was built.
But Hubert said after speaking with B.C. Lottery Corp. officials, they learned the current contract covering the support and subsidy for racing operations at Fraser Downs and at Hastings Park Racetrack will be extended for another 10 years.
Hubert said the news was verified by Rich Coleman, provincial minister responsible for gaming.
The outflow from the city of Surrey of more than $80 million in gaming revenues a year also weighed heavily into the decision to back the South Surrey casino complex proposal, Hubert added.
Nine Cloverdale Chamber directors have voted in support, but one abstained because he works at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino.
“When we got into this exercise there was a sense of fear because people thought that having another [gaming] product nearby would harm Fraser Downs,” said Paul Orazietti, executive director of the Cloverdale BIA, who added both the BCLC and Gateway Casinos have gone out of their way to demonstrate that this won’t be the case.
He said the BCLC is also working on creating a new Sports Bet Marketing program which will be ultimately unveiled at the Fraser Downs facility.
Members of the province’s horse racing industry are waiting for a draft strategic plan that will determine the future viability of the industry.
Doug McCallum, former Surrey mayor and current CEO of Harness Racing B.C., the association representing standardbred breeders, owners, trainers and drivers, said he expects the report early in the new year.
McCallum said the B.C. Horse Racing Industry Management Committee is supposed to outline a five-year plan, providing stability for the industry along with new operational models.
Next year’s schedule calls for 10 months of racing at Fraser Downs, the same as this year.
“We are moving forward,” he said. “We’re actually running very good. The horsemen are happy, and our breeding has really picked up” in response to the committee’s work.
McCallum said he believes when it comes to horse racing, clientele will remain loyal to Fraser Downs.
“Horse racing is here,” he said. “It’s not going to be in the new casino. The people who come to Fraser Downs for the horse racing will always come here.”
Despite the show of solidarity from Surrey’s business leaders, it appears public opposition continues to build in response to Gateway Casinos and Entertainment’s planned casino complex, which would feature a 200-room hotel, an 800-seat entertainment hall, and would be built at 10 Avenue and 168 Street, an area populated by large rural properties.
Surrey city council postponed a hearing concerning the gaming licence back to Jan. 14 in order to review comments from affected residents, members of the public, neighbouring municipalities, and the Semiahmoo First Nation, along with a socio-economic impact study by the B.C. Lottery Corp. and a traffic impact study.