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Fraser Downs could be home to Newton slot machines

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says Cloverdale racetrack is her favoured location for relocation of one-armed bandits.
A guest tries her luck on one of the existing slot machines at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says the Cloverdale casino would be the best place to move 150 slot machines that are currently at Newton Country Bingo Hall.

The fate of a Newton strip mall remains unknown after the provincial lottery agency announced it will pull the plug on 150 slot machines there in mid-May.

However,  Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino is one possible location for those one-armed bandits, according to Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

Last week, the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) decided it will remove the slots from the Newton Country Bingo Hall at 7093 King George Blvd., saying there was no longer a business case to keep them there.

It came on the heels of a City of Surrey initiative to have them removed, citing blown construction deadlines, a claim that BCLC and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd. denied.

Now that the slots are gone, a planned redevelopment of the site worth more than $20 million is on hold, perhaps permanently. Gateway, which owns the property, says its business case is much different without the gaming component.

And while BCLC has pulled the slots, Gateway still holds the provincial license to run 150 slot machines. The company will be looking for a place to activate those.

Asked if a spot in Surrey or the surrounding area is being considered, Gateway spokesperson Tanya Gabara said it’s far too early to tell.

“Obviously now we have to reevaluate what we’re going to do moving forward. We still have the license,” Gabara said, adding a move is likely in the offing. “Too early to say what would happen.”

However, Watts said the only place she’d consider adding the slots right now would be to Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, at 17755 60 Ave. Watts mentioned to Gateway three weeks ago that Fraser Downs was a viable alternative.

“(Fraser Downs) is still under-utilized, and it’s still under-built,” Watts said. “If there’s any opportunity in the city, that would be an opportunity that would be reviewed.”

She said the fact Great Canadian Casino already owns the casino there is not an impediment.

“If you look at Las Vegas, there are casinos that co-exist with one another,” Watts said Wednesday.

Gateway said its first order of business is to take care of the employees to try to minimize the impact on them.

Gabara said there are 50 employees working at the Newton facility, and it’s unclear how many won’t be needed once the slots are gone.

The pending removal of slot machines is the latest in a long gaming narrative in Newton that stretches back nearly two decades.

Slots were approved at the Newton site in 2009. Subsequently, the company that won the rezoning later flipped the property to Gateway and the promise of $25 million worth of improvements on the property died with the change in ownership. Gateway had promised near that investment, but has now shelved plans after BCLC pulled the slots.

Watts said she is unsure what will happen with the existing Newton property if Gateway decides against redeveloping it.