Her name, for the purposes of this post, is Tina. She keeps working the slot machine, impatiently, with an intensity that seems angry. Furrowed brows, dirty blonde hair pulled back in a bun, but wisps keep falling out that she pushes back behind her ear. Her clothes are clean, but clearly have seen better days, and the space behind her collar-bone tell me she could use more than a few good meals.
Finally, exasperated, she gets up and heads for the door and I follow her outside, where I find her sucking back the smoke on a cigarette as if it’s a lifeline, scuffing some bits of gravel on the sidewalk with the toe of her broken down boots.
We start talking, I tell her who I am and that I am doing a post on the slots in the Newton Bingo Hall. She agrees to talk with me but I can’t use her name, because “Tina” doesn’t want to deal with any hassles from anyone.
Turns out Tina is a single mom,on assistance,and in a program that will help her get her GED and learn some basic work skills to help her get a job.The only problem is,there isn’t ever enough money to make ends meet,so she thought maybe if she spent a little bit of money on the slot machines she could win a little jackpot. And she did,once. She spent $5.00 and won $50.00 on a machine that someone else just left.
“I’ll never forget it.I was all like,omg, I actually won and it was a rush,I bought a bunch of groceries,even fresh strawberries and grapes,cause like we can never afford those,and like took my little sweetie to the Sally Ann to get him a new toy. Fifty dollars is a lot of money,you know? That’s nothing to sneer at!”
Now she comes over to the Newton Bingo Hall whenever she can. Although she admits hasn’t won anything substantial since – and in fact says she knows she shouldn’t even be spending what she has – she just keeps hoping she’ll win another $50 again to get her ahead. She’s hiding her visits from her mom, who watches her son while she goes to her classes, by leaving a little early or coming home a bit later.
I asked her what she would do if the slots were taken out of the bingo hall.
“Oh shit,I wish they would.I never went in this place before the slots were here,I’m not into bingo,you know.I just heard about it from another chick in my class who said she won some money there so that’s when I started thinking about it.Oh yeah, if they weren’t here,I wouldn’t be doing it. I live over in a basement suite over on____ and ____.I walk and take the bus you know, and like,this is right on my route so it’s pretty easy.”
We talked a bit longer,I thanked her, asked her if she needed any help finding any other community services, she declined and I left with a sigh. She went right back into the bingo hall.
This is why I, and many others, have been solidly against the addition of slot machines in the middle of one of Surrey’s increasingly vulnerable neighbourhoods, Newton.
The plan was to move the existing gaming license from Newton, to the South Surrey location, but the South Surrey Casino proposal was defeated in the face of strong opposition from the communities surrounding it.
Immediately following the decision by council to defeat the South Surrey Casino proposal,councillor Barinder Rasode publically commented that the result would likely mean that slots would become permanent in Newton:
“Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited is permitted to redevelop the Newton Square Bingo Hall into a community gaming centre, according to a corporate report that was approved by council last October.
The report states that if the proposed South Surrey casino was not approved, Gateway would redevelop the hall and construct a gaming facility with 150 permanent slot machines.
Originally, Gateway planned to move the hall’s gaming licence to the South Surrey casino, pending council’s approval of that facility.
“I think that it’s very important not to have a gaming centre in a vulnerable community,” said Coun. Barinder Rasode of the redevelopment, citing concerns with low-income areas of the neighbourhood. “For me, ideally, if there was no gaming in the city, I’d be very happy, but that’s not our decision to make, the province makes that.”
Rasode opposed the addition of slot machines in the hall, which was approved by council in October on the basis that they would be installed for a temporary 18-month run. Now they may be there permanently if Gateway chooses to redevelop at the site in a timely manner.
At Surrey’s Monday evening council meeting, council approved the first applications for a development permit and parking variance permit, which are the first steps for a complete renovation and redesign for the strip mall location that houses the Newton Bingo Hall where the slots are currently located.
This is the application that was approved: http://www.surrey.ca/bylawsandcouncillibrary/PLR_7912-0330-00.pdf
Those of us in the community that have been closely following this process for several years, knew immediately that in making this first development application, the owners of the property and Gateway Casinos therefore were satisfying one of the conditions in allowing those ‘temporary’ slots to become permanent, which was to obtain a building permit by May 1st,2013.
It is my understanding that Gateway will be back before council in a few weeks with a proposal for the third building which would be the new gaming center.
In an interesting moment yesterday, CKNW ran the story that the slots were about to find a permanent home in Newton, and Mayor Watts immediately tweeted to CKNW that they did not approve permanent slots, just two buildings for redevelopment on site.
Watts told CKNW reporter Shane Woodford that 150 slots are temporary, not permanent until the issue comes before council again in a month, but councillar Barinder Rasode again pointed out to Shane that the city report shows the slots become permanent with the building of a full gaming centre in Newton.
The city report at the centre of the disagreement between Watts and Rasode is here: http://www.surrey.ca/bylawsandcouncillibrary/CR_2012-R230.pdf
On page 3, bullet 1c tells the story:
“1. That the operation of the temporary slot machines will be limited to: a. a period of 18 calendar months from the date of their activation; or
b. the date on which permanent slot machines are activated in a new South Surrey casino (if approved); or
c. the date on which permanent slot machines are activated in a new Newton Community Gaming Centre;
whichever occurs first;
Long story short, the council already approved a community gaming centre with electronic machines and slots on the Newton site back in 2010.
It may have slipped Mayor Watts mind, however the rezoning was indeed approved, as per this document: http://www.surrey.ca/bylawsandcouncillibrary/PLR_7912-0330-00.pdf
At its Regular Council meeting on July 12, 2010, Council rezoned the subject site to allow commercial uses and a new community gaming centre containing no more than 150 slotmachines along with bingo and other electronic games. At that same meeting, Council approved a development permit for the site, which addressed the form and character of the buildings and other aspects of the proposed development on the site.
Council also resolved to advise the British Columbia Lottery Commission (BCLC) that Council approves the addition of slot machine gaming limited to 150 slot machines to the existing bingo gaming license for the site.
It goes on to spell out the Project Development Agreement between Gateway Casinos and BCLC :
Project Development Agreement
•The PDA states that temporary slot machines in the existing Newton Bingo Hall building may be activated and operated under the following conditions:
–for a period of 18 calendar months from the date of their activation; or
– until the date on which permanent slot machines are activated in a new South SurreyCasino (if approved); or
– until the date on which permanent slot machines are activated in a new Newton
Community Gaming Centre.
•The PDA requires that Gateway substantially commence construction by April 1, 2013 of the redevelopment of the Newton Bingo Hall site in three defined phases and will continue and complete this redevelopment in a rigorous and timely manner but in any case the construction will be completed no later than March 31, 2015.
The PDA further states that if Gateway is not successful in obtaining a casino license for the South Surrey location, that they will proceed with construction of a new building that will house a community gaming centre including 150 slot machines, with construction to be completed by June 1, 2014.
So there you have it.
Again, the devil -literally -is in the details – the details that are so often not mentioned when the City of Surrey talks about the so-called ‘temporary’ slots in Newton.
And for the record, the vote on Monday night to approve the first phase of this development was 5-3 : Rasode, Hunt and Villeneuve opposed and everyone else, including Mayor Watts, was in favour. Bruce Hayne was absent.
Indo Canadian paper, The Link, reported in January that a casino spokesperson told them if the South Surrey Casino doesn’t move ahead, the slots in Newton will become permanent.
In speaking to several South Surrey residents this morning, each of them said that if they had know the slots could become permanent in Newton, they would have felt differently about the South Surrey Casino project, because they agree Newton is not the right location for slot machines.
In fact, contrary to what Mayor Watts claimed in an open letter to the media following the South Surrey Casino controversy, there really was substantial opposition to the Newton Slots rezoning when it first happened, which was corrected in a letter to the editor by Grant Rice printed in the Surrey Leader. http://www.surreyleader.com/opinion/letters/190110681.html
Regarding the 2009 Newton proposal, Watts chose to include Boardwalk’s 4,086-signature petition as “considerable support” from the 4,273 in favour. ( many were not even Surrey residents)
While counting only the 84 people that registered their opposition at the public hearing in her letter, 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
The Surrey Leader also had to run a correction on for her false statements on voting against the South Surrey casino proposal on first and second reading in the same open letter penned to the media – in fact the truth was she did vote in favour of first and second reading for that rezoning application as well.
Personally, I don’t have an issue with casinos other than they tend to be a magnet for organized crime money laundering. I’ve been to the River Rock, once, and years ago checked out the floating casino in New Westminster. Personally,I would rather head to Vegas for the whole experience,but recognize many people just enjoy a night out locally as well.
However, rezoning the Newton development for a gaming centre was a mistake back in 2010, and it remains a mistake now, because it’s located in the heart of a vulnerable community identified by the innumerable cash advance shops, pawn shops,liquor stores and social services.
There is a shelter, inner city elementary school and social housing all within blocks. It just isn’t right no matter how the city tries to justify it. In my opinion, the city just wants that block cleaned up, and this isn’t going to cost them a dime to make that area look much better. And like a Band-Aid covering a festering wound, changing the appearance doesn’t fix the core issues.
When the city opposed the South Surrey casino proposal, Mayor Watts said it was because they couldn’t ignore the voice of the people.
But the voices of the people in Newton were overshadowed not just by a few charities, but by the tempting promise of a developers enhancements that never came to fruition.
So today, while many are clapping and patting themselves on the back over the recent decision to have a fabulous hotel/business/residential complex valued at $150 million dollars in City Centre…
I’m left thinking about ‘Tina’, likely still sitting in the Newton Bingo Hall, spending the change she doesn’t have to spare, trying to win a little jackpot, and a little break from poverty, even if just a dream.
And why none of this seems to matter to more than three councillors on city council.
**** As anyone driving by the strip mall where the Newton Bingo hall is located might have noticed, small business tenants of the mall have been vacating for some time, having been given notice. Gateway Casinos and their design firm have had a development application waiting to go before council that was allegedly on the docket in January, but was pulled for rescheduling following the issues in Newton that became news earlier this year.
The planner in charge of this application stated the application should be going to council late February-early March, so if you are interested, you must keep checking back on the city site or with city staff for this application.
In my opinion, the changes in design do not make any difference to the greater issue of having an expanded gaming centre in the middle of a very vulnerable community. More on this in a future post, but here is the PDF planning application documents for you to examine.
NewtonBingoHallApplicationtoSurreyCouncil (pdf format)