Gateway Casinos & Entertainment has announced a $25 million project to move and expand its Penticton property.
“We’ve been here (in Penticton for) 15 years. We’ve seen our business grow and at our current location, and we need to offer more for our customers and this is the perfect opportunity for us to serve the customers and give them what they deserve,” said Gateway’s vice president of operations Jagtar Nijjar.
At a press conference Monday at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, Gateway Casinos said they have entered into a lease agreement with the City of Penticton for land and are going to offer an enhanced entertainment experience with over 45,000 square feet of space featuring live music, gaming and multiple dining options at the Cascades Casino Penticton. The new casino will be located at the southeast corner of the South Okanagan Events Centre site. It will stretch between the curling rink and the Penticton & Wine Country Visitor Centre.
Power Street resident Darryl Clarke, whose property is across the road from the SOEC, attended the press conference and was relieved to find out a high rise building wasn’t being planned.
“The casino and the city have done a good job for keeping the height of it low,” he said. “My biggest issue the parking and how they’re going to manage it.”
Clarke hopes the traffic strategy will promote Eckhardt Avenue as the common route to the casino’s new location, and avoid increases to traffic along Wade Avenue and Westminster Avenue.
Clarke worries about consequences that can result from gambling but believes the benefits outweigh the negativity.
“They call gambling dirty money, but we’ll still take it,” he said. “The schools have used it, the city has used it, and the jobs are important to Penticton, so I’m glad the jobs and tax revenues are staying here.”
Clarke also has a “minor” concern about the casino’s new location, being in such close proximity to Queens Park Elementary.
“But it’s mostly an evening thing so I don’t see that as a huge problem,” he said.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said after learning earlier in 2015 that Gateway wasn’t renewing the lease at its existing location, the City of Penticton was focused on preventing the casino from leaving the community.
“Being the host community (resulting in $1.6 million annual revenue for the city), to have that secured is very important,” Jakubeit said. “We’ve always had a vision for that South Okanagan Events Centre to sort of be that destination for our entertainment complex.”
Nijjar said Gateway explored a number of alternative locations and “this by far is the best in terms of the foot traffic we get at that location, the synergies with amenities that we have and the buildings we have around us,” he said.
“I don’t know if you can say how close (the casino was to leaving Penticton),” Coun. Andre Martin said. “Anytime a lease runs out, there’s always an opportunity for people to look at other options, turn every rock, so I’m glad our rock was the one they turned.”
Martin said Gateway was seeking a high-traffic location, and there are “not a lot of those in the community where we can put a footprint this size. It’s understandable why they want that. This whole complex is becoming one of our entertainment hubs and this will further add to it.”
The casino’s economic potential won’t immediately effect every citizen in Penticton, but the continuation of Gateway’s operations within city limits makes municipal taxation more palatable.
“I think a lot of people maybe don’t realize that every time we have a business open that helps to reduce their costs as well as a homeowner,” Martin said.
“The revenue goes back to the city annually to help fund roads, fire protection, water and sewer utilities, policing and other vital services,” said Jakubeit.
Had the casino found a new home outside of Penticton, the city-owned electric utility utility would have lost significant revenue.
“We’re going to retain one of our highest electrical customers,” said Coun. Tarik Sayeed. “It makes a huge difference.”
Sayeed was proud to be part of council for directing the plan, but he gave the most credit to city staff.
“Internally we had a good strong team. It was the staff members who made it happen.”
“It’s a very strong net positive to the city, community and the region,” said Colleen Pennington, Penticton’s economic development officer. “More amenities and more reasons to draw people to Penticton will help encourage people to spend their money here.”
Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and last around 18 months, creating 200 person-years of one-time construction employment. Upon completion, the casino’s staff force is expected to increase from 135 to nearly 300.
For the next step in the process the public is being asked to share their thoughts. The city and Gateway will be hosting three open houses over the next month, Nov. 30 from 5 p.m. to 9 at the Seniors Drop-in Centre; Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Sandman Hotel; and Dec. 8 from 1 p.m. to 3, and again from 5 p.m. until 7 at the Ramada Inn.