Saturday, January 26, 2013

 

City Hall News

Fat Chance

Council nips Chances Casino liquor license application in the bud

Staff/Voice photo

 

Casino boss Howard Blank speaks to council Tuesday.

 

ven though they've only been open in Chilliwack for a few weeks, Chances Casino is already being accused of chicanery by local businesses.

On the surface it looked like just another liquor license application from a restaurant wanting to bring in some different entertainment. But to Chilliwack City Council, and some local business owners, Chances Primary Liquor License application was more than that.

BC Lottery Corporation subsidiary Chilliwack Gaming Ltd. who owns Chances Casino at 8180 Young Rd., made an application with the City to change from a Food Primary licensed establishment to a Liquor Primary license, which they say is to allow for live entertainment and dancing at their Well Restaurant, in effect, transforming it into a night club on the level with other pubs in the neighbourhood. The restaurant already serves alcohol with food.

This has John Toussaint, general manager of Friendly Mikes Pub, up in arms. His pub is across the street from Chances Casino, and he says they could be trounced on.

One of the main issues that Toussaint has, is how Chances appears to be a wolf in sheep's clothing by coming in under the radar as a restaurant facility with a Food Primary license and then upgrading later on to a Liquor Primary license. Thus, circumventing the years of hoops and hurdles that other pub owners had to go through in order to get their liquor license.

"When the owner of Mikes (pub) originally had to go and apply for a pub license, it's unbelievable what he had to go through. The application took literally years. He went through a lot of blood sweat and tears," said Toussaint adding that initially they were led to believe that Chances wasn't a "regular" Casino per se, and so they weren't concerned about it affecting their pub operation.

Tussaint said his perception of what was happening changed long before the application was before council, when Chances began running advertisements that made it appear they were "passing themselves off as a pub."

Later on in the meeting, Mayor Sharon Gaetz read aloud flyer copy that Chances released, where they referred to themselves as a "watering hole". She agreed they were coming across as a pub and even went as far as to call some of it "offensive" in terms of what they were actually licensed for.

Gaetz said the City isn't responsible for regulating Casino advertising but she felt the "applicant has come fairly close to describing themselves as a pub, and are probably on thin ice."

Toussaint said he thought most other Chances operations didn't have a full bar operation permit and called this one a "pub in disguise."

"I probably wouldn't have much of an issue if they just served alcohol to people sitting at the slot machines, but the application says its much broader than that," he said. "It's kind of like an operation just like a pub, they want to do karaoke and do what a pub does, but in a bigger way like what a casino does."

He said if Chances were to get a full bar license, their business across the street, would take a wallop.

"How do we weather this storm?" asked Toussaint. "We just weathered the .05 storm and that was a huge hit on Friendly Mikes in particular, because of the location, because we're sitting in a non-residential area and people have to drive there."

As a result of a licensing change, City managers would not expect more traffic in the neighbourhood, nor do they anticipate any huge issues arising from the upgrade.

The casino's nearest neighbours are helicopters, and the RCMP noted in the City report that they likely won't have any noise complaint issues with the live music and patio parties.

Jody Miakwa, chairperson of Barwatch in Chilliwack, told council that Chances was not a member of their group.

"The Well is not a member of Barwatch. They've been invited. We've driven ... our secretary has driven an application to them. They have not returned it and they have not attended any meetings," she said.

Chilliwack resident Bob Harms, who owns Corky's Pub also sent in a letter of opposition to the City, and speaking to council, said that Chances is muddying the water.

"The salient point here is that there's a great distinction between a Food Primary and a Liquor Primary," he said adding "if they are allowed to cloud that definition, then there's no point in having two separate licenses."

"It's quite a violation to be a Food Primary and pass yourself off as a Liquor Primary which this organization does on their web page and in their advertising. They are making it so they are directly in competition with pubs. Pubs pay a higher license, have a greater difficulty in obtaining one. They're asked to have higher security and all these things," explained Harms.

In rebuttal, casino boss Howard Blank told council that Great Canadian Casino's proposal for the Chilliwack Chances was about entertainment and not about alcohol sales. At the present, they can have bands and the type of entertainment they're already requesting, however people must stay seated.

"When we opened in Chilliwack, we actually had to tell people they could not stand up, or move to the music because that is considered audience participatory."

In answer to Miakwa's concerns, Blank said they already have measures in place similar to Barwatch ID Scanners and self-exclusion lists. He said they also work with the RCMP to keep "undesirables" out and anticipates some participation with the Barwatch in the near future.

Blank said their focus has always been on the entertainment side and that they don't want to compete with pubs.

"Pubs are different. We do not have pool tables at our property. We do not have some of the unique offerings that pubs have. In fact, our model is not on liquor purchases, our model is on food purchases," he explained adding "most Chances are licensed actually in the province."

Responding to criticisms they're trying to somehow bypass the application process, Blank says they aren't trying to deceive the community.

"We are Canada's largest entertainment corporation, I don't think we're trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes here."

After two motions, one to deny and one to approve, the application resulted in a split-decision.

Coun. Sue Attrill, who was not present, would have had the swing vote. So, in accordance with City bylaws, the motion was defeated.

It's not a done deal. Chances has 30 days to come back with their proposal and another Public Information Meeting would have to be called.

 

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