07/28/2014 05:02 EDT | Updated 09/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Reject bid to build casino outside downtown core:Kamloops city staff

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - City staff are encouraging councillors in Kamloops, B.C., to reject a company's bid to build an expanded casino outside the downtown core.

On Tuesday night, councillors are expected to debate a report by the planning department on Gateway Casino's intentions.

“General planning philosophy accepts that strong downtown centres help create a sense of place and community focus,” the report says, noting the downtown area is one of the primary commercial and cultural centres in the city.

Gateway bought a property, which housed a big-box store, without waiting to see if the city would approve the necessary zoning changes.

The property is zoned for shopping-centre use. The city designates land for casino use on a case-by-case basis.

If councillors choose to ignore staff’s recommendation, they would next consider rezoning the property at a public hearing.

That is Coun. Pat Wallace’s preference.

“I’m always reluctant not to take something to a public hearing and air it well,” she said.

"There’s a lot of money with a casino.”

Casinos pay 10 per cent of their net gaming revenue to host municipalities.

In 2013, Kamloops took in more than $1.8 million from the Lake City Casino.

Gateway Casino CEO Tony Santo said in an interview earlier this year that the company plans to convert the former big-box store into a $34-million casino featuring restaurants and pubs, a 500-seat amphitheatre, 600 slot machines and 20 gaming tables.

The new casino would be rebranded from Cascades Casino, and Santo estimated it would create 110 new jobs.

“We’re confident that the city and community will be onside,” Santo said about the company's decision to buy the building before a zoning decision.

"Kamloops hosts the head office of the BCLC (BC Lottery Corporation), and we would like to build a facility that warrants that type of exposure.”

Mayor Peter Milobar has also spoken in favour of Gateway’s expansion plans, saying in April that he’s been pushing for a better class of casino for five years — provided a casino is an appropriate use for the property.

City staff gave council one argument in favour of the relocation bid — the site’s current designation as a shopping centre.

“Shopping-centre categories permit a wide range of retail, personal service, and entertainment uses,” the report notes.

“The role of casinos in general is shifting to entertainment designations with multiple complementary uses, such as hotels, restaurants, and live entertainment.” (Kamloops This Week)