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Gaming centre planned on highway at Squamish

Squamish Nation to lease reserve land, reap financial benefits from gambling

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Sea to Sky travelers will soon be able to try their hand with Lady Luck at a new gambling facility south of Squamish.

Dubbed an "entertainment centre" the new facility will be located on Squamish Nation reserve land on the northeast corner of Valley Drive and Highway 99, opposite Totem Hall.

It will have slot machines, bingo, a sports bar and a craft store but no gaming tables.

"Whether you're for it or against it - in my community nobody's offering money for free," said Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob at Tuesday's Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he was the keynote speaker.

Squamish Nation will be leasing the land to Boardwalk Gaming, Canada's leading bingo centre operator, which will build the 25,000 square foot Chances Brand Community Gaming Centre.

Jacob does not believe the centre will be open by the 2010 Games in February and phone calls to Boardwalk Gaming's Toronto headquarters were not returned this week.

The project will inject more than $1 million annually into Squamish Nation coffers.

That money will flow from lease revenues, property taxes and an expected percentage of the takings.

"I think there is part of the wins coming to our nation," said Jacob.

There will also be 18 well paying full-time and part-time jobs for the nation, he added.

In early December Squamish Nation voted in a referendum to change the land designation at Valley Drive, paving the way for the gaming establishment.

"Seventy-six per cent of those that voted, voted in favour of designation of the land and also of the project, so a pretty resounding positive referendum," said Jacob.

Squamish Nation does not need any approvals or development permits from the District of Squamish (DOS) because the entertainment centre is on reserve land.

Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said the district had its chance to have the centre within town limits two years ago but council decided the location (at the north end of the business park) was not appropriate.

"We have a very good relationship with Squamish Nation," said Gardner.

"Squamish Nation has had an open dialogue with us about their project."

Jacob touched on some of the social issues, which are associated with gambling.

"Obviously there's going to be that small percentage who abuse the opportunity to game," he said.

"Personally I don't gamble but that's my choice but there's other people who choose to do it. And for those who are excessive at it, we were given assurances by our partners that there will be video monitoring of the facility so that we'll be able to keep track of our people who may be abusing the opportunity to game. So we want to ensure that we're socially conscious on this particular piece."

Mayor Gardner shares some of those concerns about the social issues. But with the negative sides to gaming come some positives to Squamish.

"There's an economic benefit," he said. "I think it will draw tourists to town."

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