The corridors of Vancouver City Hall were packed tonight, as hundreds of people showed up to express their distaste over the proposed Edgewater Casino expansion.
Before being allowed into the building, protesters jammed the entrance waiting for the security lockdown to cease, a “standard procedure” according to councillor Andrea Reimer, who entered through the Broadway entrance.
While the anger could be felt from all directions, with various groups lobbing words like ‘greed’ and expressing a strong distaste for what they felt the proposal would mean for the city, a small group of casino workers stood off to the side, wondering why nobody wanted to hear their side of the story.
“They help me out a lot,” said Edgewater employee Elela Eremina. A Russian immigrant and 13 year casino employee, Eremina said she was recently diagnosed with cancer and that the company had been quite supportive of her needs.
Beside Eremina stood her friend and colleague Shelly Holden, a 38-year-old blackjack dealer that’s worked at Edgewater for over two years.
“It’s pretty heart breaking to see this many people so adamantly opposed to it,” she said, her eyes watering up indicating she was holding back tears.
“They’re making it more of an anger issue than it is.”
Holden said the critics of the development were ignoring the creation of jobs, expected to number some 1,900 full-time equivalent positions.
“Nobody still has a solid argument as to why [there should be] no casino.”
Holden pointed to GameSense representatives who are tasked with identifying problem gamblers, around 4.6 per cent of the population, and providing them with services to deal with their addictions.
“You go online and you don’t get that,” she said. “BCLC seems to be pretty much supporting online gambling and they’re forgetting about the people who actually need jobs.”
Those opposed certainly made their presence felt, with several large banners exclaiming opposition to the casino expansion. The group Vancouver Not Vegas, which distributed signs addressed to various councillors opposing the expansion, had collected over 2,800 signatures for its online petition by the time council proceedings began.
Opposition from an unlikely source
Among the 163 speakers in line to speak was Glyn Townson, spokesman for the BC Persons with AIDS Society.
“I think the politicians need to hear the issues around this that they might not be fully aware of,” he said. Townson expressed a degree of confidence in the mayor and council, but added that he worried about the transparency of gaming funds.
“They’re not giving the percentages they said they were going to in the first place … In the beginning where it was 50 per cent, now [it’s] 30 per cent,” he said.
Townson said that his group depends upon an annual dividend of $210,000 in order to finance much of their operations. While told there would be no cuts to that funding, he said he recently found out that the group will have to budget for $50,000 less.
Saying he had witnessed the effects first-hand of these type of cuts on social programming, like arts and athletics, Townson said his group wanted “A full counting of where that money is going.”
A crowd pleaser
While the highly contenious session of council got underway, the crowd became noticeably unsettled by 8:00 p.m. A drunken individual, who was seen consuming alcohol outside of the council chambers, walked up to the BC Pavilion Corporation speaker and interrupted his presentation.
Security officials asked the crowd if the man should be removed and the group answered with a resounding “Yes!”
It was, perhaps, the least contentious issue of the night.