Adding slot machines to Newton Bingo Hall is misguided attempt by Mayor & Council to set things right in Newton

I need your help.

Will someone, anyone, please give me an example of an already ailing neighbourhood that actually benefited from expanded gaming facilities right in the midst? Can anyone show me where adding slot machines to an existing bingo hall has actually improved and revitalized the surrounding area?

I’ve written several times about the spiralling degradation of Newton, a residential neighbourhood in Surrey that has been suffering for quite a while.  My most recent article was published as an open letter the the editor of the Surrey Now.  My outrage is clear and certainly the recent news that Surrey Mayor and council support Boardwalks efforts to “revitalize” the existing strip mall by expanding the Bingo Hall and adding slot machines didn’t soothe me one bit.

In a 5-3 vote, council approved the continuation of the plan, allowing it to move to the public hearing stage as well as further scrutiny by council. Councillor Linda Hepner  supports the $25million plan whole-heartedly and says she feels comfortable with the bid because it calls for penny slots – pennies and nickels.


Time for a little reality check Linda – and for those who also voted to let this go further along.  I bet you don’t get out much in Newton to actually know what the immediate area is like around the mall, do you? Have you ever actually even been in the current facility? Good grief.

How about coming for a walk with me so I can show you first-hand what is at stake. I invite all the councillors along for a little schooling.

Right behind the Mall is a family, lower income housing co-op – a large one. There are also two well-known crack houses right behind the mall area.  There are several lower -income apartment buildings.

Within a half block is a closed and abandoned gas station where street people congregate and reside overnight.

Two blocks to the south is large homeless shelter, and three well-known low-cost motels where street walkers ply their trade are right across from it.  Two blocks to the north is  a recycling bottle depot, where at night after closing, the local hookers and addicts hang out to socialize.

Within three blocks of the current and proposed facility, there are 2 pawn shops. Two

There are also 3 cheque cashing facilities with extended hours.

Within 4 blocks, there are two parole offices,one federal, one provincial, 5 pubs and attached cold beer and wine stores,and the extremely dicey Newton Bus Loop.

I’m told , but have been unable to confirm, that the pharmacy at the local Safeway is the local methadone dispensing facility.

Plans have been made for a facilty for women escaping domestic violence with second stage housing for them and their children,within two blocks.

Do you see where I’m going with all this? All of the above businesses and homes are within a short walk of the proposed facility. This is clearly not a neighbourhood where the residents are brimming with hope. One can already see obviously troubled residents in the bingo hall, trying to win it big, spending Lord knows what kind of money they don’t really have to spare.

How can anyone- especially an elected city official – say they honestly feel comfortable because ‘its only penny and nickel slots’ ?

How ?

Do you think for one minute that every down and out bum, addict and hooker isn’t going to be in there plugging those machines with their scrounged up pennies and nickels, hoping to score  a $10 dollar win for their next fix, some food, or a pack of cigarettes?  You’re selling false hope, and nothing more. Its not going to be people with money in this facility, dear mayor and council, its going to be the people who really don’t have it to spare. The people who cant feed themselves or their kids, the people who have already lost all hope and are hoping to hit it big with one more push of the button. Think not River Rock Casino – think the dirty streets ofold Vegas.

You will have to excuse my impertinence , but since when was it councils business to sell false hope in exchange for a better looking facility?  At one time, council fought against slot machines, but yet you seem so willing to host the thought now – whats changed?

Ahhh….. I think I smell money… 10% of all profits from the slots? I hope you plan to spend it all on RCMP, because we are going to need them even more than we do now after slots are installed. You think Joe Blow isn’t going to breaking into even more cars for some change or CD’s he can sell for quick cash? HA!

You are fooling yourself, Linda Hepner, if you truly believe its going to make the neighbourhood better. I think besides the fact that the buildings will undergo cosmetic improvements you don’t have to fund, the profits are obviously the big selling point for Mayor and council – not the reality of what goes on after slots are installed.

If you really want to do something to help save the neighbourhood, how about starting with the basics.

Order those owners of abandoned buildings to knock them down instead of leaving them as gathering places for crime and drugs. Clean up the streets, and start approving some projects that really will change the entire area for better.You want a thriving community with pride? Show the community you really, truly support them.  Meet with the rental property owners and hold them accountable for their atrocious properties. Low income doesn’t have to mean slum, and it shouldn’t. These residents need help, not slot machines.

Haven’t any of you noticed all the security guards the local businesses have to hire to protect their staff and patrons? Not just one, sometimes two and three.  What does this tell you? We need more policing. We need it badly, in this area.

Boardwalk Entertainment claims to have so much public support, and I bet they do- from all the current bingo players who already use the current facility. The place is busy all the time, and sadly enough, its almost entirely the same people who I speak of above. No money to spare, and yet day in and day out, there they are.

Perhaps we cant force someone into detox who is on drugs, perhaps we cant turn around the life of every street person, but you can prevent this neighbourhood from becoming worse than it already is, for those who actually care and live here.

Dont provide yet another avenue for petty crime, addiction and hopelessness. For those on council who do not live with the realities of this neighbourhood, please think about this. Real change takes vision, dedication and concentrated effort at sticking to concrete plans. Too bad council doesn’t seem to share the vision I have for Newton, because slot machines are not part of it.

You might feel good about supporting this proposal now, because you don’t actually live here, or have to deal with the consequences, but what will you do when the revitalization you seek, doesn’t magically appear when those slot machines are installed?

How will you feel then? Will the percentage of profits you retain from the proceeds allow you to sleep better at night?  I hope you will, because I know I won’t be able to.

Update: Council approved the slots in Newton on a temporary basis while the South Surrey Casino motion moves forward

5 Comments on “Adding slot machines to Newton Bingo Hall is misguided attempt by Mayor & Council to set things right in Newton

  1. Somebody thinks ‘Vegas’. False economy. The cost of services to that area from emergency personnel to the cost of fostering gambling addictions are rarely properly assessed. Shinny penny syndrome at its finest.

  2. You’ve got it spot on Laila! Newton seems destined to become the new Whalley….

    What the community needs is a lift on it’s feet and some real reinvestment – adding penny slots to an already at-risk area is not the answer.

    Newton is the geographical centre of the city and deserves much better!

  3. Get Real, false economy doesnt even begin to explain this decision. The bingo hall is already making money off of people who really cant afford it, and throw some slots in there… one may as well just go rob them in their homes and save them the trip.

    Paul- Good luck with your campaign!!

    Newton IS the new Whalley. It has already happened. Just wait until the propsed rehabilitation home that John Volken is trying to build. His methods are unknown and he refuces to provide any statistics to back up his claims- although some research I’ve done shows his drop-out rate is extremely high. and where do those men go who’ve dopped out in the very first week? Right in MY backyard. See this article for more info.

    I’m sick of it. Whalley needed help, and its been happening- not because residents asked for it, but because the skytrain became the draw, the lure, fo revitalization and growth. I’ve been in those condo sales centres- they emphasize the gorgeous view, the easy commute via transit – and not one talks about residents still having to step over hookers and addicts on the way to anywhere. REAL and sustainable change takes vision and dedication

    Too bad no one seems to hold the same vision of Newton as I do.

  4. $25 million? For penny and nickel slots? Didn’t the federal government eradicate the penny? Penny slots indeed. I agree with you that gambling in that area is a bad idea.

    That $25 million could be put to better use. As a tax payer I would rather see better transportation, education for ESL, street cleaning, abandoned lots cleaned up and put to use, and cheaper rates for swimming pools and rec centres, etc.

    • A bit of history.

      Originally, Boardwalk gaming owned the Newton Bingo hall. Wanted to do a revamp and expand gambling, and made a deal with the city that they would do all sorts of enhancements to what is a really neglected neighbourhood,lower income,etc, in exchange for being allowed to put slots in — they promises the sub and the moon… a new bus loop was going to be put in, a walkway over King George…. all very good and grand and for allowing slots in a poorer neighbourhood,the city wouldnt have to pay for improvements.

      Boardwalk ended up selling to Gateway,and the city found that all the enhancements etc were off the table.

      The slots were approved temporarily for Newton Bingo, with the idea that the South Surrey Casino would be approved, and that the gaming license would be moved from Newton to South Surrey.

      Of course, the South Surrey Casino was ditched at the last moment, and now Newton is stuck with slots in a very vulnerable neighbourhood,no improvements,and the people who have been living there for so long are tired of it. They want the slots gone.

      The funny thing is, there was a lot of talk about how many people protested the South Surrey Casino, but there were a large amount of people who protested the Newton Slots as well – that was completely ignored by council.

      Following the SS casino rejection, Watts wrote a letter to the press about the process and reasoning following Colemans attack that contained several items that were completely wrong.

      I feel compelled to address the inflammatory public comments that have been made by BCLC CEO Michael Graydon.

      The statement that “something transpired in the last few days and I don’t know what,” implies that I acted irresponsibly. The only thing that transpired was public consultation. Mr. Graydon’s comments show a complete disregard for the public process.

      To state that he is “disappointed” in my actions and “if she truthfully had issues,” is crossing a line that a regulator should not cross. I did not have any issues with Gateway or the proponent. I was concerned with the public opposition, which no one can “fix”.

      The facts are as follows:

      1. A rezoning application came forward and I did not support 1st and 2nd reading.

      2. On January 25, 2010, a public hearing occurred related to the site and the rezoning by-law in question, and the architect stated the development will be a 200 room hotel, including a restaurant. Council and the public were told:

      “if the casino component does not receive a license then the convention centre would be expanded to support trade show and other such uses.” Richard Holvert, Architect; Regular Council – Public Hearing Minutes. January 25, 2010.

      I supported 3rd reading of the rezoning bylaw because there was little public concern raised at that public hearing, and I knew that before a casino use could be included on the site a separate Council approval process would be required, including a separate public hearing.

      3. The developer, prior to the 2010 public hearing, stated:

      “But, failing to get approval for a casino from B.C. Lottery Corporation won’t be a deal-breaker… the hotel and convention centre would still proceed.” Vancouver Province, October 4, 2009.

      4. The Newton bingo facility has been located in Newton for several decades, and there was considerable public support in October 2009 when the slot machines were approved. In fact, 4,273 people were in favour and only 84 opposed the project. More than 17 community organizations spoke in support, including non-profit organizations, sporting and arts groups, businesses, and social service agencies.

      I, along with Council, worked with the proponent to define a project that would have the best chance for success, and serve the residents of Surrey, as we moved forward to the public consultation component of the process. Our input was intended to assist the developer, but was not approval for the project because we are committed to public consultation prior to making decisions.

      If, in fact, the CEO of BCLC expected this to be fully supported, then why bother going through with the public consultation process and a public hearing that continued for 13 hours? We must ensure that we have an open and transparent process where the Mayor and Councillors can make decisions and be supported, whichever side of the issue they are on.


      Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts

      In fact, when shown proof otherwise, which is on the record at city hall, the Surrey Leader who also published the same letter, had to write a For the Record correction on that:

      Grant Rice, who ran for Surrey Council in the last election, even wrote a letter to the editor, correcting the grossly incorrect representation that Watts had given, that there was little opposition to the Newton slots, when in fact there was significan opposition.

      I feel compelled to address some of the “facts” as offered by Mayor Dianne Watts’ open letter to the B.C. Lottery Corp. last week (Letters, The Leader, Jan. 29).

      1. The mayor did in fact vote in favour of the first and second readings of bylaws 17114 and 17115 at the Jan. 11, 2010 land use meeting, as well as third reading on Feb. 1, 2010. These votes were all carried unanimously, including the third reading that was delayed until a week following the public hearing.

      2. The “lack of public concern” raised at the Jan. 25, 2010 public hearing was a result of inadequate public consultation on behalf of the developer and the city’s narrow notification process.

      3. The Province newspaper article referred to by Watts citing a developer as saying failure to get casino approval in South Surrey was not a deal-breaker also included the following: “The City of Surrey is serving notice that it’s ready to roll the dice on establishing new gaming facilities. That intent was outlined in a letter last week from the city to B.C. government gaming regulators. In fact, that letter represented more than wishful thinking, because Surrey has already received three applications for gaming facilities.”

      4. Regarding the 2009 Newton proposal, Watts chose to include Boardwalk’s 4,086-signature petition as “considerable support” from the 4,273 in favour.

      While counting only the 84 people that registered their opposition at the public hearing, she neglected to include the two 600-signature petitions and a 120-signature petition submitted by community groups and religious organizations in the immediate Newton neighbourhood. Many of the same NGOs and sports groups that offered their support in 2009 have backtracked on their position after the province cut gaming funds.</strong>

      We can only hope that a spirit of genuine consultation will precede any future development projects of this magnitude.

      I can’t even imagine how such a large mistake could have been made by the mayor in getting the numbers so wrong, but there it is.

      And although there are currently some plans to talk about Newton again… we did this all 4 years ago.. I was at those meetings… residents aren’t happy with the slots, the crime and the recent murders.

      I haven’t written about Surrey in a while.

      I used to live in Newton, a nice little cul-de-sac, where 5 shootings over as many weeks one summer made me move.In one, I was one of the first on the scene with my camera.

      While I have since moved,I feel an obligation to the friends and residents I know in Newton who are still dealing with the same issues they dealt with years ago.

      And part of that obligation, is saying where taxpayers money is being wasted to handle a PR problem that doesnt jive with the feel good, come live in Surrey, large advertising dollars plunked down by the city of Surrey to the Vancouver Sun in recent months.