Province bets on gaming review
Mayor Hugh stands firm: "No thanks"
By Chris Woodall
Don't worry, says the provincial government: appointing a senior official to review opportunities for gambling casinos in B.C. doesn't mean it'll impose them on certain municipalities.
Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly isn't so sure.
"They're getting ready to do something," O'Reilly observed about the government appointment of Peter Clark to head a review that is to report its findings early in 1997.
The province is butting heads in court this week with the Greater Vancouver Regional District over who calls the shots on casino development. The provincial government wants to succumb to the siren song of big tax revenues a casino might bring in, but the GVRD doesn't want any proposed casinos in its bailiwick.
Whistler, too, has felt the gaze of a provincial government — Socred or NDP — looking about for a good casino location. It has been a recurring issue for the resort municipality for more than a decade.
"Many people asked me for my position on gambling, and I said 'no'," O'Reilly says. "We're trying to increase use of mountain biking, hiking and other activities. Gambling is perceived not to be a part of that."
And a casino would attract the wrong elements to Whistler — no, not the gamblers, the developers.
"We don't need any more fuel for a fire to come from developers bringing in building projects to support a gambling facility," O'Reilly says.
Whistler has two bylaws on its books, amended two years ago, to try to padlock any attempt to open a casino here. A zoning bylaw prohibits "any land, building or structure for any gaming activity of any kind."
A business regulations bylaw puts the boots to "any video lottery terminal, electronic bingo, or other electronic gaming device for the viewing of any sports or racing event in connection with wagering conducted on the same premises on the outcome of the event" in any place where beer or booze is sold.
On top of that, the municipality has committed itself to holding a referendum on any casino proposals.
But all that town talk may be for nothing. As far as the province is concerned, it has jurisdiction over the when and where of gambling, says Maureen Murphy, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Employment and Investment, home to gaming legislation.
"However, it's not the province's desire to force anything on a municipality," Murphy says. "A municipality's concerns would be taken into account."
That's hardly an iron-clad promise, especially given the government's keening appetite for new sources of revenue.
"This government views expanded gaming as an opportunity to build the economy and provide revenue to protect health care and education," says Employment and Investment minister Dan Miller. "We see it as a way to enhance the tourism industry."
The opposition parties are predictably riled.
The Liberals have taken a strong approach to the review, calling Premier Glen Clark and Miller "New Dictators" in a press release.
The Reform Party is calling for a province-wide referendum on an issue that some Social Credit party forebears were as keen as the current NDP to institute.
Because the review has just begun, Whistler would be "jumping the gun to be worried about it," Murphy says.
Certainly it's not keeping O'Reilly up at night.
"We have a hundred burning issues on our plate and believe me, this isn't one of them," the mayor says of his newly-elected council's plans for the year.