‘Open arms’ for community gaming centre

Great Canadian Gaming bought the Maple Ridge business community lunch on Monday afternoon at The ACT

Jim Lightbody

Great Canadian Gaming bought the Maple Ridge business community lunch on Monday afternoon at The ACT, and explained what the new Community Gaming Centre is going to mean to the district.

The facility could be a significant windfall for the coffers at municipal hall.

There are presently 100 slots at the Community Gaming Centre on 224th Street, and they generated $787,000 as 10 per cent of the district’s share of the gaming profits.

With 150 slots, housed in new $15 million facility on Lougheed Highway, the gaming revenue generated for the municipality could be considerably more.

“It all depends on consumer acceptance and excitement,” said Jim Lightbody, the vice president of casino and community gaming for the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC).

He was one of the three main speakers at the Monday luncheon.

Flanked by poster-sized artist’s conceptions of the new 30,000-square-foot building, Mayor Ernie Daykin said the new facility will change the face of the area.

It is to open by the end of the year.

Lightbody said people can get a sneak preview of the building by seeing the new Chances Chilliwack facility.

“You’ll truly be amazed,” he said.

The facility will offer bingo, off-track betting, a lounge and a “great array” of slots.

It will be a venue for bands and other entertainment on weekends, and there will be patio seating.

Lightbody addressed the criticisms of the province’s gaming venues. He said the B.C. government conducted a 2004 study, which found that crime did not increase after casinos were added to Vancouver, Cloverdale and Langley. He credited on-site security and video surveillance with keeping the criminal element at bay.

The research also found that the incidence of problem gambling in those communities did not increase, which he admits is “probably a surprise to some people.”

However, he explained that about 4.6 per cent of the population is at risk of developing gambling problems, and because of this “social responsibility is part of our DNA.”

Howard Blank, vice-president of Great Canadian, said his company endeavours to educate gamblers about gaming, the house advantage, and other factors that empower them to make responsible decisions.

“We don’t want to make money off people who can’t afford to be there,” he said.

Lightbody said the province made $1.1 billion in gaming revenue last year. About 80 per cent of that went into the provincial budget, paying for health care, education and other government services. About 20 per cent was given as grants to arts groups, sports organizations and school parent advisory councils.

While slot machines have been controversial in other communities, the gaming centre operators have been welcomed in Maple Ridge.

“So far, it’s been open arms,” said Lightbody, adding that city staff “really have a can-do approach.”

“We want to be part of the community, and we want it to be a great place to go,” he said.

Blank said Great Canadian is analyzing opportunities to best support charities and other causes in Maple Ridge.

Lunch was covered by the gaming company, so the $10 patrons paid for lunch was donated to the Brown Bag Lunch Program, put on by the Friends in Need Food Bank, Salvation Army and Community Services. They received a cheque for $790, and Blank promised:

“The best is yet to come – this is just a start.”

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