Vancouver might not be the only major city in the province getting a new gaming facility. Two months after the government announced the development of an entertainment complex featuring up to 1,500 slot machines near BC Place, Public Eye has learned the province's largest bingo hall operator has been pushing to open one of its mini-casinos in Victoria. But internal records obtained via a freedom of information request show a senior city bureaucrat was concerned the social and policing costs of Playtime Community Gaming Inc.'s proposal would outweigh its financial benefits. And the mayor has told us he's not in favour of such a facility.
Playtime's pitch came in the form of a 14-page document touting the 10 percent cut Victoria would get from the community gaming centre's take, depositing more than $700,000 annually into the city's coffers for every 100 slot machines installed.
Following a meeting with Playtime representatives Jacee Schaefer and Arthur Villa on September 8, 2009, senior planner Brian Sikstrom wrote an email reporting the facility would have "100 to 150 or possibly more slot machines."
The proposal stated British Columbia Lottery Corp. studies had determined there was an "unserviced market demand" for such a centre in Victoria, with the Crown corporation awarding Playtime the "exclusive right to locate" one there.
That facility would replace the company's existing Tillicum Road bingo hall in Saanich and be "themed to compliment and reflect the historical significance of Victoria."
But that wasn't the limit of the company's ambitions.
"Should market demand demonstrate that expansion is necessary the facility would be expanded to the scope and scale required to meet that demand. This could range from the installation of additional slot machines, to eventually evolving into a casino."
Before releasing Playtime's proposal to Public Eye, the city blanked out the facility's proposed location because it could harm the company's business interests.
Still, there were some hints about that location in the records we obtained.
According to Mr. Sikstrom's email, the centre would be about one-third the size of Great Canadian Gaming Corp.'s View Royal casino or 17,000 square feet.
Another document prepared by Playtime added the centre would be located an area of Victoria that had been approved by city council in 2003 for just such a purpose - encompassing parts of downtown, James Bay's tourism district and the Douglas-Blanshard corridor.
And it would be housed in an "existing building" that would require "extensive renovation."
Mr. Sikstrom reported Playtime had already contacted one Victoria city councillor - Chris Coleman - and planned to reach out to others "for their initial thoughts on the proposal."
In an interview, Mr. Coleman said that contact was a coffee conversation with Ms. Schaefer - Great Canadian Gaming's former media and government relations vice-president - in early 2009.
"It was very much an exploratory (conversation) and nothing specific or no pieces of property were talked about," stated the councillor. "So I said, 'Take a scan of the council you've got at the table. This is what I think you would have to do to get their attention as a group.'"
But Playtime won't just have to get council's attention. They'll also have to get around some of the concerns raised by the city's sustainability director Kim Fowler.
For example, in an email dated January 27, 2010, Ms. Fowler advised Mayor Dean Fortin, "$1-$2 million revenue will not cover the City's direct and indirect costs of the social issues, including additional police enforcement."
But that cost-benefit rationale would change if there was a proposal for something more grandiose than a community gaming centre.
Noting council had previously "provided a very strong message of no support for a stand alone facility," Ms. Fowler added, "The City may consider a full casino license to support the tourism industry, provided it is part of a larger facility (e.g. hotel)."
"The associated revenues from that operation are substantial enough to provide sustainable benefits to the community."
That email was sent in advanced of Mr. Fortin's February 10 meeting with Playtime - which was scheduled to include Ms. Schaefer and the company's president and general manager Tom Nellis.
Asked about the status of Playtime's pitch, the mayor told us, "I haven't seen or heard if there's any formal proposal that's come in. I know they were talking to people in the hall and staff just to see if there was any appetite for that."
As for whether he's spoken to the company, Mr. Fortin initially said, "If there's a guy named Anderson then I think we probably did in a fairly forthright (way)," responded the mayor. "But, as I said, I'm just one voice...I know for myself I certainly wouldn't look to champion a community gaming centre - slot machines and stuff."
Then, when we asked about the February 11 meeting between himself and Playtime, he replied, "Yeah, I do know we had some people there." But the only thing he told attendees was "here's the zoning, here's what you're allowed, here the process and I certainly wouldn't champion it."
And he delivered the same message when he met with officials from British Columbia Lottery Corp. on January 28.
Playtime didn't respond to a request for comment.
The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned records.