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Chances a sure thing in Squamish

Gaming centre already a popular attraction, primary liquor license on the way



Any business startup is a gamble, but so far Boardwalk Gaming's decision to open a Chances gaming centre in the community of Squamish has been paying off.

The doors officially opened on Feb. 1, just two weeks before the 2010 Olympics and three months later the facility is already successful in many ways.

General Manager D'Arcy Stuart said he's pleased with the response to the centre, pointing to the success of their Mini Monster Bingo Nights.

"We've been selling out a week in advance, all 160 tickets, and it's like a bingo I've never seen before in my life," he said. "It's a much younger demographic, people are having fun, they're cheering and clapping - it's quite a scene."

Chances Squamish has been running the Mini Monster nights every second Saturday. The next one, on May 1, had already sold 130 tickets as of Monday afternoon.

The festive bingo atmosphere is only one of the ways that the gaming centre is unique. It starts with the partnership between Boardwalk Gaming, the B.C. Lottery Corporation and the Squamish Nation that has helped the project get off the ground at its current location south of Squamish. It's larger than many locations around the province, with 125 slot machines, and it's modern - the only facility in the province to offer paperless bingo.

Chances Squamish is also hoping to receive a primary liquor licence soon that would allow patrons to drink while playing bingo or the slots. Managment is also preparing to launch their new outdoor patio on May 1 with a free barbecue, as well as a renovated restaurant space to go with a new executive chef and menu. They also have two 58-inch television screens to create a sports bar atmosphere, a pool table and other amenities.

It may seem strange to renovate the space so soon after opening, but Stuart says the goal is to create one of the nicest establishments of its kind in the province.

"We hosted the Chamber of Commerce AGM last week, mostly people who have never been in here, and we got a great reaction to the space," said Stuart. "It's beautiful, and in Squamish it's unique for its finishing touches.

"There are a lot of nice (Chances) locations in B.C., but everyone who has come to see it has said it's one of the nicest if not the nicest."

Stuart says it's tough to know where all of their customers are coming from, but he says that he knows through employees that people are coming from as far away as Mt. Currie to play bingo and he's spoken to regulars from as far away as Lillooet in the North, and from North Vancouver. He also sees some drive-through traffic on the way to and from Whistler.

"It's a difficult thing to measure, but we're definitely seeing a lot of people stopping after a day of skiing that will sometimes stop and hit the restaurant," said Stuart.

The level of business has allowed Chances to launch a program to support community non-profits on Wednesday nights.

"Local charities sell tickets to come in and play, and they get to keep that $5 and we match that corporately to another $5. So if they sell 100 tickets and raise $500 they get $1,000. And the people who pay get a free buffet," said Stuart.

The first community event is on Wednesday, May 12 for the Relay for Life to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society.

"For us it's a great way for the community to connect with us," said Stuart. "I still meet people who say they didn't know that Chances had a restaurant or what else we have to offer."

While Stuart says they have regulars, they also take the issue of gambling addiction seriously and provide literature and assistance in co-operation with the B.C. Lottery Corporation.

"The goal is to arm people first using programs like Game Sense, Know Your Limit, Play Within It, and making that information available," he explained. "We also participate in a self-exclusion program for people who feel they are losing their ability to gamble responsibly... so they can come in and have their picture taken, and can be self-excluded from all gaming facilities in B.C. for a period of their choosing. It's quite a popular program, and we support it. (Gambling addiction) is real... and we take it very seriously."

Chances has also reduced its hours of operation through the summer, and will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night. The decision to close earlier on weeknights is common, Stuart explained, as typically gaming centres see business slow over the summer months.

Another sign of Chances' success is the weekly payout of $200,000 from the slot machines that they are advertising. One customer won the provincial Ka-Chingto bingo jackpot of $41,000, and there have been several customers who have won over $10,0000 at the centre.

"Most people are coming to have a little fun, but it's exciting when people walk out with money as well," said Stuart.