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Paragon gone, with defeat of mega-casino?

It was a rare, 11-of-a-kind royal flush Tuesday when Vancouver city councillors from the left and right united to reject the controversial B.C. Place Stadium casino proposal exactly seven months before the civic election.

"Enabling the largest casino in Western Canada in our downtown does not fit with Vancouver's brand as the world's most livable city, as the Green Capital, as a hotbed for innovation in clean and digital technology, in resources management,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said.

Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming proposed moving Edgewater Casino from the Plaza of Nations to a new $500 million complex with two Marriott hotels on B.C. Pavilion Corporation land west of the stadium. The number of tables would have doubled to 150 and slot machines tripled to 1,500.

Council quashed the proposal and slapped a moratorium on casino expansion, pending a B.C. Lottery Corporation public review. Paragon was invited to apply to relocate Edgewater, but only at its existing size.

A marathon five-part public hearing, which ended April 10, was dominated by members of the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition which successfully argued the casino could spur crime and addiction.

Supporters included representatives of companies reliant on PavCo, building trades unions and Edgewater’s CAW-member staff. The casino workers feared Paragon would shut down Edgewater when its lease expires in 2013.

“It's back in your employer's court,” said COPE Coun. David Cadman. “It's up to Paragon to figure out a way to make this work."

Paragon president Scott Menke publicly stated that the business plan relied on expansion, but was vague Tuesday about the viability of a scaled-down version.

“We certainly are disappointed in today's outcome, but stand committed to our employees and supporters in our efforts to find a permanent destination in the Lower Mainland,” Menke said.

The defeat doesn’t harm the taxpayer-funded $563 million B.C. Place Stadium renovation or its schedule, said B.C. Pavilion Corporation chairman David Podmore.

Podmore refused to concede defeat, even though it was his second time involved in a losing bet on a downtown casino development. His Concert Properties partnered with Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn in the failed mid-90s Seaport Centre convention centre/casino proposal.

“I heard council approve the relocation of the casino, what they didn't approve was the expansion,” Podmore said. “We've told you that we're going to have to take time to assess what this resolution means and how we might deal with it.”

Sandy Garossino of Vancouver Not Vegas said she was relieved with the outcome. Now it’s time, she said, for the province to re-examine the role of casinos and lotteries and “to what extent are we relying on addiction.”

Bob Mackin covers Vancouver issues for The Tyee and others.

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