Why did Stop BC Arts Cuts join other community, charity & arts groups to oppose the Edgewater Casino expansion at BC Place?

The proposed mega-casino would be situated near the water, adjacent to BC Place Stadium, as part of the redevelopment of Northeast False Creek.

UPDATE, April 19: WE WON!

Our coalition against the Edgewater mega-casino slated for downtown Vancouver has won. After first telling us it was a done deal, City Council voted unanimously against the casino, and we are grateful to them for that. They made a difficult decision under relentless pressure from the provincial government.

Now we want to ask you, our supporters, to spread the word: the fight against the mega-casino was arts-led. Arts in BC, already the most undersupported arts sector in all of Canada, received disastrous government and gaming cuts in 2009 unlike no other other province. In the ensuing months the BC government refused to speak to us in good faith, put no competent individual on the file who could speak intelligently to us or knew the issues, and our sector began to tank. Despite our massive contribution to the province’s annual GDP, we were the only sector to be deprived of government investment. With no other means at our disposal, we thought long and hard and decided to defeat the casino. Why? We didn’t want to see any more gambling in our name, especially since the BC Liberals’ massive expansion of gambling in BC has led to not one extra dollar for BC’s arts, charities, non-profits  andamateur sports  - the very things that were used to justify the expansion. The people of BC were being misled about where their gambling dollars were going – they were being used for huge kickbacks to the casino industry, for boondoggles like the hated BC Place roof, and other sinkholes. Enough was enough! Arts groups led by Stop BC Arts Cuts, Arts Advocacy BC and the Alliance for Arts joined with thousands of Vancouverites to say NO MEGA-CASINO in our name. And a massive majority of Vancouverites are grateful.

Please pass on this story to anyone you think might be interested. The arts will show our muscle again and again, always in the public interest, until our sector receives the investment it deserves. Do we want a vibrant, creative, innovative province or not?

______________________

January 2011

In BC we find ourselves in strange political times, and strange times call for unusual methods. Arts advocacy tactics have lately taken a new turn, one that may at seem confusing or counter-intuitive. However, we think it’s the best way to focus public attention on the serious damage that the cuts to arts funding have inflicted on our sector, and we believe it’s an effective way to bring pressure to bear on the BC government.

In short, we are using the conscience and duty of Vancouver City Hall as the pointy wedge in our fight. The BC government is trying to force a mega-casino on Vancouver’s downtown core. It owns the land, but as everyone knows, just because you own land, you can’t do whatever the hell you like with it. You have to get permission from the City. A mega-casino is  a bad deal for many reasons (statistics show it isn’t even good business), but we are emphatically opposed to it in light of the unwarranted and possibly illegal cuts of gaming funding to charities in BC. For all of these reasons we are asking the City to stand up to the province and say no. NO to a mega-casino in Vancouver.

Our current strategy regarding the casino was not solely initiated by the arts. It was devised in collaboration with the BCACG (BC Ass’n for Charitable Gaming) which represents all charities in BC who receive gaming funds. All of these charities were hit with devastating cuts at the same time the arts were hit – August of 2009. But the arts didn’t just see a lessening of funding; Minister Rich Coleman actually made the arts ineligible for gaming funds altogether, thereby cutting the majority of BC arts funding. The BCACG has tirelessly advocated for the restoration of gaming funds to arts organizations despite the fact that the arts have been disqualified from receiving funds.

Since the BC government was utterly intractable and refused to talk to us about the destruction of our sector, we were forced to come up with smarter political strategies. This is why Stop BC Arts Cuts and the BCACG got together to use the Edgewater mega-casino application before City Hall as a means of getting the BC government’s attention.

Read on for a more in-depth explanation.

At the end of this post is a list of things you can do to help. Please get involved, if only by just writing a letter! It will only take 2 minutes, an easy to way to exercise your democratic rights and duties! Thank you.

So how did we start out fighting the cuts to arts and end up by opposing a mega-casino in Vancouver?How can we justify asking to have gaming funds restored AND at the same time fight the development of a new casino?

These things are not as contradictory as they may initially seem. As you probably know, the arts have received gaming revenues since gambling was legalized in this province. Arts and other charities were in fact used as one of the main justifications for gambling’s expansion. But it was never the preference of the arts and culture sector or charities to be funded mainly out of gaming revenues. It was a government decision to fund the arts through gambling money rather than through tax dollars via the BC Arts Council. Given gambling’s well-documented role in crime, addiction, predation on seniors and other social ills, gambling’s proceeds are dirty. And regardless of what the government says, these ills cannot be eliminated from gambling no matter how well you regulate it.

The arts don’t just entertain us; they are also where society looks at itself, its ills, its decisions, and its imagined futures. Funding arts with blood money is an inherent contradiction and a bad idea.

However, given the lack of regular arts and charity funding in this province—BC levels are far lower than in any other province, by a country mile—there were few if any other options for the arts. Arts and other charities were put into the position of swallowing their moral pride in return for a promise of 1/3 of gaming revenues. Now these groups are being cut away from those promised funds and are facing dire financial straits. The straits were worsened by the fact that there was little advance warning of the cuts from what is a remarkably opaque provincial government, so the resulting financial instability was dire. BC communities now find themselves reeling from the damage to their non-profit service sector, whose crucial services, jobs, and infrastructure are crumbling.

The most galling fact is that this isn’t happening in any other province. Regardless of the varying economic health of each province, and despite the recession, other provinces more or less stood firm on funding. BC stands alone in the depth of its cuts. (See this devastating comparison between BC and Alberta, for example.)

Now the BC government wants to embark on another massive push to expand gaming, all while increasingly slashing its gaming contributions to charities and disqualifying arts altogether. It’s time to say no. That’s right: as gaming revenues have gone up, the contribution to charities has gone down. Further gambling expansion will not benefit the arts—not now that Minister Rich Coleman has made the arts ineligible for gaming funds—and it will clearly not benefit charities either. If you want to know where the gambling proceeds really went, read this.

MEGA-CASINO
As for the plan to build an unprecedentedly large mega-casino in Vancouver’s downtown core: Is this the kind of cultural scene we want in our city? Do we want to see casino theatres featuring washed-up acts competing with our cultural centres, our theatres, our venues? Is this the cultural reputation Vancouver is going to have to carry? Most other cities put casinos out in industrial areas for a reason, not smack in the middle of their downtown cores. Many Vancouverites still don’t know that this casino would be the largest in BC, 61% larger than the already enormous River Rock Casino in Richmond. They also don’t know that it would feature 1500 of the most up-to-date, addictive, neuroscience-engineered slot machines. Its raw resource, as with any casino, would be seniors and the drug trade.

There is industry talk of attracting high rollers from China, but all expert opinion points to the failure of that plan considering the stunning casinos in Singapore and Macau, not to mention Vegas. In the destination casino game, we do not compete. In fact, expert opinion points to the eventual failure of the casino industry in general, and gambling cities from Vegas to Atlanta are in deep trouble.

Some of you may know that we do already have an existing Edgewater casino downtown. It’s relatively small. If the new plan goes ahead, the old casino would be vacated, massively expanded, moved next to BC Place Stadium, and would also feature a taxpayer-funded “entertainment” and hotel complex (in fact it’s just hotels, of which Vancouver already has a glut, and bars and the stadium). Not only would our tax dollars go into this complex, but it would be privately owned and operated on an impossibly long 70-year lease by a sketchy Vegas company, Paragon Gaming. If you want to find out more about this whole backroom-deal operation, read Pete McMartin’s series in the Sun, this article in BC Business, articles in the Vancouver Observer and on the CBC, or just keep watching the news. The story ought to erupt soon, given that the rezoning application is before City Hall and revelations about BC money-laundering surface daily.

It’s time to ask City Council to find the courage to defy Rich Coleman, who—as CBC has made so painfully clear—does not have control over the rampant crime in the BC gambling industry. Gambling is not a good future industry for our province, it cannibalizes other businesses, it sucks the economic energy out of surrounding areas, and it’s not something we will be proud of.

This attempt on the part of the BC government to expand gambling in the municipality of Vancouver has given BC’s charities – including the arts – the opportunity to highlight their situation in a very public manner.

We are asking Vancouver City Council to stand up to the province and say no. Some Vancouver city councillors are already opposed to the plan; it remains to be seen how the majority will vote. To recap, the casino will introduce untold social ills into Vancouver, it does not conform to the image most Vancouver citizens want to project of our city, it will represent many social and economic costs that will fall to the municipality to pay rather than the province, and, what is most relevant here, charities will will receive little benefit. And the arts will receive none.

OUR COALITION
The coalition against the casino development is powerful and growing. We were told the casino was a done deal, but that now seems very unlikely. Vancouverites overwhelmingly oppose this casino and they are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition. Groups in the coalition to date: The British Columbia Association of Charitable Gaming, (@BCACG on Twitter, or on Facebook) False Creek Residents Association Strathcona Residents Association (@strathconares on Twitter) Grandview-Woodland Area Council – read their letter here The Alliance for Arts & Culture representing over 350 arts & culture groups Stop BC Arts Cuts – a diverse group of arts supporters from all over BC Arts Advocacy BC – independent group advocating for arts throughout BC … and all of the numerous Vancouver citizens and seniors’ groups who have come out to events so far, written letters of support, and plan to attend the public hearings.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 1. The Coalition has a website: Vancouver Not Vegas!, a Facebook page, and Twitter. Please visit, join, and follow these! 2.  PLEASE write a letter to City Council, telling them how you feel about the casino. Go to the link and either use the City’s feedback form, or alternatively use the sample email. PLEASE cc us! dontgamblevancouver at gmail dot com. 3. You can also write a second letter in support of Councillor Ellen Woodsworth’s motion to City Council to suspend the casino application, here. This one needs to be done ASAP. She presents it Jan. 18 to Council. Do this by Feb 17! 4. Keep your ears open for news of the beginning of public hearings at Vancouver City Hall in February. We will need you to come out and show support or sign up to be a speaker.

Thank you for reading. This is important. No dice, Minister Coleman!

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3 responses to “Why did Stop BC Arts Cuts join other community, charity & arts groups to oppose the Edgewater Casino expansion at BC Place?

  1. you guys are awesome. way to go arts community! way to align ourselves with the progressive forces in this city!

  2. I agree with marcus. You are awesome. Keep up the good work.
    Much appreciated

  3. Thank you thank you thank you for making all of this information so easy to find so that we (and others) can be informed and do something about it.
    I have tweeted this link after a friend of mine posted it on my fb wall. Let’s get the word out there!!

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