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Gaming motion prompts lengthy Township debate

Township Councillor Steve Ferguson will have to go back to the drawing board with his motion to send a letter to Premier Christy Clark recommending a review of the distribution of casino revenues to municipalities.

Council voted Monday afternoon to send the motion back to Ferguson for reworking, claiming it is too “loosey-goosey” and pre-emptive.

The motion comes in spirit of Clark’s current review of how gaming grants in British Columbia are established and issued.

Ferguson says the distribution of profits from casinos to just the municipality they are located in is unfair. The money should instead be handed out regionally, he said.

Municipalities with casinos receive 10 percent of the profits to put back into their community. However, surrounding municipalities receive nothing.

According to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, $82.3 million was given to local governments which host casinos and community gaming centres in the 2010/2011 fiscal year.

Langley City, for example, received more than $6.2 million from Cascades Casino in the 2010/2011 fiscal year. In the first quarter of the 2011/2012 fiscal year, it has already accumulated more than $1.4 million.

“It is now a municipal revenue source and it’s just so unfair and I don’t care if you all vote against it,” Ferguson told council Monday afternoon.

“The reality is that it is an unfair model and I am just bringing it up to everyone’s attention.”

Councillor Kim Richter pointed out  Langley Township had its chance to become involved with a casino, and chose not to.

“When I first saw [the motion] I kind of had mixed reactions, and I still have mixed reactions because the Township declined having a casino here. The City of Langley jumped at the opportunity and they’ve benefitted from that substantially,” she said, “Passing a motion like this could be interpreted as not very neighbourly and trying to take something away from them.”

Councillor Mel Kositsky echoed this response, and suggested the issue be taken to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for discussion.

Kositsky, who is past chair of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Gaming Committee, fears that opening the debate on a provincial level may have negative effects on municipalities. He looks to Ontario as an example where recent discussions of a similar matter led to cuts of casino revenue to 22 municipalities.

“There’s a whole variety of different contracts that have to be discussed and I think municipalities themselves have to take a look at it themselves first before letters are sent to the provincial government,” he said.

Ferguson pointed to a property tax increase comparison done from the 2011 budget information, which has been tailored to demonstrate increases in municipalities with casinos versus municipalities without them.

The Township’s increase of 3.95 per cent is higher than all the listed municipalities in the Lower Mainland with casinos, according to the chart. (The City of Langley’s rate is 2.99 per cent).

Another suggestion voiced by Councillors Grant Ward, Bob Long and Bev Dornan is that the money be redistributed to better support local charities and non-profits.

“I think the theme that’s running through it to get more money back into our communities is a noble one, and to nonprofits might be the way to go,” Long said. “They should be funding more non-profit organizations perhaps in those communities that don’t have casinos.”

But the consensus on council is that more information is needed.

Kositsky proposed that a request be made for Township staff to send a letter to the UBCM asking for updated information on the issue and that a letter be sent to Skip Triplett, chair of the Gaming Review Committee, asking for his comments and delegations.

Richter stated the money could be put to better use for economic development in struggling regions or even for TransLink.

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