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Pique'n Yer Interest

Pray for a casino and maybe it'll come



A casino! In Whistler? What a novel idea.

There has been absolutely no talk about it from town planners, at least not that the public has heard, and any time the topic comes up in conversation people are vehemently opposed to the idea.

The main argument is that it doesn't fit the image that Whistler has created for itself  - but what about it doesn't fit?

Whistler is a tourist mill and if we want to keep the turnstiles active there needs to be every variety of experience attracting visitors. This needs to extend beyond just family experiences. As Las Vegas knows all too well, families don't bring in the dollars.

That's not to say Whistler should become Sin City North in order to thrive, but it needs to start thinking outside of family-friendly-only programming. Whistler at present does not provide a whole lot for adults to do after dinner, except for nightclubbing, an activity that, on the whole, loses its appeal a) after one or two nights in a row and b) once people turn 30. Whistler is actually kind of boring. If it wants to thrive, it needs to cast its net much wider.

A casino is a good place to start because it's not just a casino - it's a restaurant, it's a bar, it's a theatre. With a new venue will come increased programming and, depending on the success of the casino, that programming could be more world-class on a more regular basis than this town currently provides. A casino is, in short, is a people-attracting, entertainment-compounding moneymaker.

In British Columbia, host local governments earn 10 per cent of a casino's revenue. In the 2009/10 year, the provincial government distributed $81.9 million to these communities. Between July 1999 and March 31, 2011, Penticton earned over $21 million. Nanaimo earned over $32 million in that same period. Prince George - $24 million-plus. Richmond - $93 million. Fort St. John - over $2 million, and that's in a very remote location in B.C.'s north.

Now that Canada has approved destination status in China, Whistler has the opportunity to pull in - and profit from - a new type of tourist coming to Canada, but right now the town has very little to keep Chinese tourists in Whistler for more than a day. They get off the bus, they take some pictures, they get on the bus and go back to the city. And the Chinese - they love to gamble. Macau, located on the southern tip of China, is the biggest and most successful gambling destination in the world, pulling in revenues of $24 billion in 2010 - way above Las Vegas. Whistler, and indeed Canada, needs a very good reason for Chinese tourists to spend their coin across the ocean. Vancouver city council, in its rejection last month of a massive casino along False Creek, aborted a potentially massive cash cow.

Whistler's strongest appeal right now is the regional market, but it's completely missing the people who don't care about the great outdoors. Metro Vancouver residents have their own "great outdoors" to appreciate. They need other reasons to come up.

There would be a definite dark side. Casinos can bring out in a community a certain desperation that might not otherwise exist. The underbelly of Whistler may flop over topside. But try as we might, Whistler cannot stave the ugliness off forever. It's the nature of growing up. The hardships, they breed evils. Where there's a yin, there's a yang. How we confront and deal with those evils will determine what sort of presence it has in the community. Whistler is fortunate in that it's still very young in 2011, with over a century of mistakes in urban planning to learn from.

We can't have it both ways. If we want tourists to come, we need to give them every reason to make the hour and a half trek from Vancouver. The mountains are good enough for the people who live here but as we now know, they're not good enough for everyone else.

It's astonishing that, even in a global recession, Whistler has attracted millions of people based on its outdoor offerings alone. But it's not enough. It never has been enough and that's what the Cultural Tourism Development Strategy is about. Building a casino could be a part of that strategy. It's time to start thinking about what the town needs to maximize its financial successes.



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