THE LOCAL Chances Terrace gaming centre wasn’t so lucky with Terrace city council last night after its request to increase the number of slot machines it operates was denied.
After a public forum was held last week at which the majority of community members who spoke were in favour, the Chances Terrace request to add 25 slot machines was defeated by a 4 – 3 vote.
Councillors who voted against the bid felt that even if profits were distributed to governments and community groups in need, isn’t worth the suffering gambling causes to those addicted.
Councillors who favoured the expansion argued it’s not the city’s job to regulate a facility that operates legally and that demand at the facility speaks for itself.
“I still maintain that the biggest addiction to gambling is our levels of government,” said councillor Lynne Christiansen. “It really bothers me that a society as a whole profits off the backs of those that lose.”
Although many at last week’s public forum spoke in favour of increasing the number of slot machines, Christiansen noted they stood to gain gambling revenue grants and that she’s heard privately from many citizens who aren’t in favour.
Councillor Stacey Tyers added that she also heard from community members who are opposed to expansion but weren’t comfortable speaking at the forum.
“The people most affected by gaming addiction are … essentially, our most vulnerable,” said Tyers, adding research she’s done indicates slot machines are the second highest addictive form of gambling next to online gambling.
She also pointed to the revenues.
“A lot of this is coming from people who can absolutely not afford to lose it,” she said of money they had.
Councillor James Cordeiro agreed.
“Repeatedly, the amount of money distributed to charities has been used to rationalize a substantial increase to the number of slots in Terrace,” he added, also voted against expansion.
Also, there are a few circumstances which contradict the BC Lottery Corporation’s efforts to promote responsible gambling, he said.
He pointed to a machine at Chances Terrace which allows four virtual machines to be played at once, the placement of an ATM at the doorway and also BCLC’s online gambling limit which he said was raised from $120 to just under $10,000.
Councillor Bruce Bidgood also voted against the motion, saying that in this case, he voted with his heart.
“I have to speak with my own value system on this position,” he said, adding that while he’s heard compelling arguments both against and in favour, he’s against creating a culture that fosters gambling addiction.
Chances operates a legal facility, pointed out councillor Brian Downie, adding it is “an issue of congestion” that’s led the facility to increase the number of slots.
In a previous presentation to council, the BCLC said an average of 90 per cent of the 75 slot machines at Terrace Chances were filled on weekends compared to 54 per cent occupancy in Prince Rupert and 71 per cent in Williams Lake.
“Chances exists,” said Downie. “And it has been run by all accounts successfully.”
Council also endorsed the construction of Terrace Chances in the first place, he said.
He questioned what council’s role was in trying to limit slots when demand for the machines speaks otherwise.
But Tyers responded that a limit was imposed years ago, meaning council made the decision then to regulate the number of machines allowed.
“I think we’re simply upholding the previous position,” she said.
According to councillor Marylin Davies, it isn’t council’s job to limit people’s choices.
“As a democratic citizen of Canada it’s not my place to say what you can do with your money and what you can’t,” she said. “If people want to gamble, nobody is taking them by the hand and shoving them in the door.”
She also pointed to the irony underlying another request made to council last night by a local group for a letter of support for gaming money to run programs to feed hungry people.
The request, which was granted, came from the Kalum Community School Society which this year received a $125,000 grant but now wants an increase to $180,000 next year.
Grant money will go toward toward food school programs, community school gardens, the Good Food Box program and the fruit registry.
The Hungry Kids Project provides more than 2,000 food servings to schools weekly in Terrace and Thornhill, according to a report provided to council last night.
Mayor Dave Pernarowski did not speak to the motion but he sided with Downies and Davies in supporting a move to increase the number of slot machines.