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Surrey casino decision continues to generate fallout, with BC Lottery Corp CEO clearly feeling betrayed

January 23rd, 2013 · 22 Comments

I can’t recall when I’ve heard a high-level bureaucrat sound so upset. At first, when I heard about Energy Minister Rich Coleman’s comments about the Surrey decision, I thought it was the usual strong words from our very expressive MLA from Langley.

But a lengthy interview with BCLC CEO Michael Graydon made it clear there’s a lot more than a little quick-tempered disappointment going on. The lottery corporation staff clearly feel they were invited to come to Surrey bearing a casino licence and invited to spend hours with planning staff and councillors to come up with exactly the kind of complex the city wanted to see there.

I wasn’t on the ground, so it’s hard for me to judge how strong the opposition really was there. Mr. Graydon says it was nowhere near the levels of community opposition Vancouver saw. That’s certainly what I was hearing in the early days of the casino proposal last fall.

But I’ll let him speak for himself, as he did in my story today.


VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Jan. 23 2013, 8:00 AM EST

Terry McNeice, President of the South Surrey Ratepayers Association, stands near the land for a proposed casino/entertainment complex along the Highway 99 Corridor in Surrey, B.C., on Nov. 27, 2012. Councillors voted 5 to 4 to reject the controversial project on Jan. 19, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)


The CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation is “dumbfounded” that Surrey’s mayor and councillors turned down a casino after having given the corporation and the developer, he says, clear signals for three years that they wanted one.

“Something transpired in the last few days and I don’t know what,” said Michael Graydon in the wake of a surprise 5-4 vote at 2 a.m. Saturday to reject the casino licence for a luxury hotel and convention centre development planned near the Surrey highway that leads to the U.S. border.

Mr. Graydon said he is particularly disappointed that Mayor Dianne Watts is now saying she had concerns as far back as last fall about the proposal by Gateway Casinos, something he says he only discovered Tuesday by reading her comments in a newspaper.

“If she truthfully had issues, I would have thought she had enough respect for Gateway to raise those issues then.”

But Ms. Watts said that the city’s rezoning for the land three years ago always specified that the casino component might not be approved.

She said the developer at the time assured councillors that not having a casino “wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.”

She also said council has to listen to what the public says.

“What’s the point of going to a public hearing if you’re not going to listen? For me personally, it was a very difficult decision.”

Ms. Watts said that, although a couple of councillors had been clear about their opposition to any casino right from the beginning, others were not.

But Mr. Graydon said he and everyone involved in the process say the decision seemed strange, especially given that the opposition to the Surrey casino was a fraction of what it had been in Vancouver two years ago.

In contrast to Surrey, he said Vancouver councillors send clear signals weeks ahead of a vote that they had doubts about a casino expansion.

But the Surrey decision was startling to everyone involved, even opponents, he said.

Surrey council considered two proposals for casinos in January of 2010. One was for a casino attached to a large complex in the newly developing city centre. Another was for the property in south Surrey. The city had earlier adopted a policy on casinos saying it would not consider more than three altogether for the municipality.

Council voted in favour of a rezoning for the downtown complex, but removed any provision for a casino.

It rezoned the south Surrey property to allow an entertainment complex with a casino. However, council specified the casino licence should be voted on later.

The lottery corporation originally advised Surrey not to rezone the land for a casino, Mr. Graydon said, because there was no guarantee at that point the operator would get a licence.

“But the city decided it wanted to go on its own accord,” he said. Surrey planners envisioned the area as a commercial gateway for travellers coming from the south along Highway 99. “By zoning, it created the communication to us that council desired a casino to be built.”

Mr. Graydon says the corporation has no interest in moving into communities where residents don’t want them.

But since Surrey was sending signals it wanted one, BCLC and Gateway started working in partnership with city staff and councillors to develop and refine the concept. The mayor and councillors asked for many revisions to the complex, including a larger theatre, a hotel that was minimum four stars, and more.

Developer Bob Cheema complied, adding $30-million to the cost of the proposed project.

Everything is up in the air now, acknowledged Mr. Graydon and Ms. Watts.

She said she has no idea whether the developer will proceed with the convention centre and hotel.

Mr. Graydon said the corporation isn’t going to invest any more energy in Surrey. Instead, it will wait to see whether any of the communities bordering Surrey – either of the first nations communities, plus Delta or Langley – are interested in building a casino.

“We believe a market exists in south Surrey.”

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  • The Lottery Commision knows better than the community? Hmm, this kind of anti-democratic arrogance is becoming more frequent.

  • Richard

    Well, it was obviously a very poor place for a casino and hotel. It was far away from existing and proposed rapid transit lines. I have no idea why Surrey was even considering a massive car oriented development when they are trying to convince the region to invest in LRT that go nowhere there. They really need to get serious about good land use planning.

    This proposal should have never gotten this far.

  • Everyman

    Why would you put a convention centre and/or a casino in the farthest reaches of South Surrey, with poor transit connections? Both should have gone in the City Centre area.

  • Bill Lee

    Was he and his minions talking to everyone
    in damage control this week?

    What will happen when all casinos are
    banned, along with lotteries?
    And do they ever look at the social damage
    of gaming at all?

    Frances Bula wrote above:
    “The CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation is “dumbfounded” that Surrey’s mayor and councillors turned down a casino after having given the corporation and the developer, he says, clear signals for three years that they wanted one.”

    Jeff Lee wrote in the Vancouver Sun
    “Michael Graydon, BCLC’s president and CEO, said he’s disappointed and “befuddled” by Surrey council’s weekend decision to reject plans for a $100-million casino in rural south Surrey. But he said the lottery corporation will turn that rejection into a benefit for some other nearby community”

  • Kenji

    How impressive.

    Mr. Graydon has called out Diane Watts a liar, insufficiently respectful to a gambling outfit, and essentially a tease for zoning an entertainment area with potential but not actual casino development.

    It’s about time. How dare an body elected to serve the needs of its citizens dare defy the wishes of a professional gambling organization that stands to gain millions of dollars.

    Whie the BCLC does post some jive about community consulation (“A good measure of corporate social responsibility is how well we listen to the communities and the people we serve….For instance, whenever a new gambling facility is planned, relocated or undergoing significant redevelopment, the community is consulted”), it’s more important to whine and kick up a fuss. That shows the maturity and wisdom necessary to lead BCLC.

  • IanS

    As I read the article, the gist of the complaint is not so much that Surrey voted against the project, but, rather, that Surrey seemed to invite the project at the outset, which caused BCLC and Gateway to spend time and money on it. Obviously, Surrey is entitled to make the decision that it did. However, if it did effectively invite the process in the first place, I can understand Mr. Graydon’s position.

  • F.H.Leghorn

    Bill Lee asks:”What will happen when all casinos are banned, along with lotteries?”
    I can give you odds on that.

  • Guest

    Why would Surrey have initially supported that remote location for a hotel and convention centre, let alone a casino anyways?

    Sounds like a “bait and switch” – but why would you even want the “switch” out there?

  • InsiderDoug

    Perhaps Watts didn’t want Mayor Gregor to be the only local politician with provincial aspirations, to be able to claim they fought back the casinos…. so set this whole thing up?

    Gregor and his team originally were fine with the Casino too, but turned it down when they saw political advantage. Watts is just as smart.

  • Terry M

    FGH @7′
    Count me in!

  • judi sommer

    This story certainly has legs now that Rich Coleman has waded into the fray. He was furious at the result after calling counsellors and the mayor herself numerous times about the project. This is clearly political interference-and worse! Peace Arch News broke the story and i assume will be digging firther. Calls to Coleman’s office were referred to the lottery commission. Wheels within whells. Who had what to lose?

  • waltyss

    Mayor Watts in comments said that the CEO of BCLC didn’t understand the public consultation process. How true.
    All too often the public consultation process is just window dressing for a process where the fix is in and the decision has already been made.
    On too few occasions, the public consultation process actually works: one example was the oppostion to the expanded cansino at BC Place. This is a second. The process ended up in a result that was no pre-ordained.
    Let’s see if another is a refusal of rezoning from light industrial to residential on the Waldorf site.
    @Insider Doug. I know you hate Vision and you are entitled to that view, although not so publically as a city civil servant. However, my objection is not to that but the cynicism of your comments about situations where the process worked. Yes, politicians on occasion change their minds. In doing so, are they protecting their political hides? Yes, and so they should.
    Nothing wrong with that.
    However the naysayers tend to get them both ways. They are only protecting their back sides when they change their minds and they refuse to listen when they don’t. The underlying assumption is that everyone is a crook and operates in bad faith. And frankly, that assumption is more than a little tiresome. Some politicians are crooks, however, most are not. Of whatever political persuasion!

  • Threadkiller

    @Guest #8:
    The location of the proposed casino can hardly be described as “remote”. It’s true that South Surrey has long lagged behind north and central Surrey in terms of scale and density of development, and even now, here and there, it retains vestiges of its once widespread semi-rural character; but that is changing quickly. Major developments, both commercial and residential, have been popping up with increasing frequency in South Surrey in recent years, swallowing up hundreds of acres of once-pristine farmland. The massive Peninsula Village development on 24th avenue just east of Highway 99 and a mile north of the site of the proposed casino is an excellent example of the kind of over-development that brings joy to the flinty hearts of Surrey politicians and planners. Just a few years ago that site was some of the prettiest rural land in the area, with small farms and orchards. Now it’s just acres of asphalt and big-box stores, two things of which Surrey evidently feels it can never have enough. And of course White Rock, bordered on three sides by South Surrey and highly developed itself, would have provided an additional nearby population base on which to draw.

    You have to understand that in Surrey, land is considered to have no intrinsic value unless it’s been covered over with either blacktop or buildings. As nature abhors a vacuum, so Surrey abhors anything that evokes nature, and the casino decision, you may be sure, is a mere aberration, welcome though it is. They’ll be back to business-as-usual out there soon enough, more’s the pity.

  • Bill Lee

    Not the best tool, but COSMOS, City of Surrey’s GIS mapping service has a mashup of aerial photos from 1998 to 2012. You can use a slider to change views over that date range.
    Get a little closer to the area of South Surrey (next to White Rock (ex Surrey Ward 7), by Boundary Bay) to see differences.

    Basic introductory help page

    Historical Image Viewer
    “Use the Historical Imagery Viewer (Website. New window.) to view historical imagery of Surrey landscape, back to 1998. ”
    “Enter the address and drag the slider bar to see the desired year. The Historical Imagery Viewer is is best viewed in Firefox.”

  • Bill Lee

    South Surrey to secede and join White Rock?

    [ Always a small murmer among the rebel landholders…… ]

    By Frank Bucholtz – Peace Arch News
    Published: August 09, 2011 3:00 PM

    …White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer says he would support any move to amalgamate what many people think of as one community, the Semiahmoo Peninsula, but he also acknowledges that any effort to bring the two areas together would have to be driven by South Surrey residents

    ….Historically, there was a move to have parts of what is now South Surrey leaving the larger District of Surrey in the run-up to the incorporation of White Rock in 1957.
    The actual boundaries of the City of White Rock were determined by the boundaries of Surrey’s Ward 7, from which one councillor was elected. Areas outside the ward remained in Surrey.
    In 1957, there were virtually no urban areas in South Surrey.
    The sole urban area was within the new City of White Rock, which had its own sewer plant and thus could make more land available for development.
    The city grew substantially in the 1950s and 1960s, but by the early 1970s was completely built up. From then on, what development there has been in White Rock has been redevelopment – in some cases, into apartments and condominiums, and in others. the replacement of beach cabins with large homes.

    Since 1957, the annexation of South Surrey into White Rock has come up occasionally. The last time there was any discussion in that direction was about 20 years ago. [ more ]

  • Everyman

    @Bill Lee 15
    Makes sense to me, as people from South Surrey often say they are from White Rock or Crescent Beach anyway!

  • Raingurl

    Keep the casinos in Richmond where they belong. What do you suppose will go on the undeveloped land? I’ve already got a pretty darned good idea…….and it wont be a skytrain platform.

  • InsiderDoug

    Waltyss – I dont hate Vision, dont put words in my mouth or emotions in my head. They do many good things that I support, and some big bad things that I don’t. I say what I think. I’d appreciate you not trying to pigeon-hole me.


  • Andrew Browne

    Waltyss – Great comment.

  • waltyss

    @Insider Doug, #18. Sorry, but I have only seen negative comments about Vision and Dr. Ballem.
    In any event, for me the issue is not whether you hate them or not or like some things but not others. It was the unfortunate cynicism of your remark for the reasons I explained in my post #12.

  • InsiderDoug

    Waltyss, since you’ve now mentioned Dr. Ballem, I’ll clarify again… although hate is a strong word, I have an intense dislike for the way she runs city hall, what she’s done to the civil service, and to people I respect. So you’re right, I have nothing positive to say about her.

    As for Vision, again there are many things I like in what they’ve done. Bike lanes. Community gardens. Green city stuff, I support. But everything Ballem has done to city hall has been with their approval. They run her. Period. So that weights things heavily on the negative side for Vision despite some good moves.

    Not cynical. Say what I think. Cynical is about assuming/presuming the worst, with no evidence. I see it first-hand, or through colleagues I respect and trust. Thats not cynical, thats observant and honest. I wish I could be more honest in real life, with my real name, but I have a career and family I must consider.

    Besides, calling someone out in here for cynicism when they are making a comment, is like calling someone out for speaking english. Or was that a cynical comment?

  • InsiderDoug

    Waltyss, one more thought…

    I agree with you that politicians are not crooks, at least most of them aren’t. Being a political opportunist, isn’t a crook. Some would say its being a smart politician.

    But is the system really working if the politicians back down after some level of public disagreement, when the politicians were the ones initially supporting/championing the idea?

    Thats not my definition of the system working – council shouldn’t have championed it in the first place, shouldnt have negotiated the details, should have let staff do their jobs.