Minding the Ps and Qs: B.C. Place casino gets a new name and financing

Controversial project led by ex-BCLC boss, whose legacy is tarnished by government audit

B.C. Place casino's branding
B.C. Place casino’s logo

A grassy hill and grove of trees that stood beside B.C. Place Stadium’s west plaza until just after November’s civic election are long gone. So is the hill that they stood upon and so is some of that plaza.

Crews from construction company EllisDon/Tishman are busy building a Parq. Work quietly began in late summer, under a site preparation permit from City of Vancouver. They’re trying to get ahead of schedule because they’ll have to pause for five weeks in June and July because of the FIFA Women’s World Cup at B.C. Place.

Parq is the September-trademarked name of the new $535 million casino/hotel complex to be built on land leased from B.C. Pavilion Corporation for $3 million a year, previously known as “Site 10A.” It was briefly called “Vancouver’s Urban Resort” in 2013, a clever euphemism for “new Edgewater casino” but Urban Resort is a trademark belonging to Toronto-based Geranium Resorts.

Parq Resort Casino’s parent, Parq Holdings LP, is a joint venture of Paragon Development Ltd. and PBV VUR LP, and on Dec. 17 it announced US$415 million project financing to build two Marriott hotels, a 60,000 square foot conference centre, five restaurants, three lounges, shops and the new home of Edgewater Casino. The news release heralded a financing syndicate led by Credit Suisse Securities (USA), Dundee Securities Ltd., and Valtus Capital Group of Las Vegas. Paragon had apparent challenges finding a lender after the failure of its Eagle River casino in Alberta and the fact that it doesn’t own the land on which Parq is being built.

In April 2011, Vancouver city council gave Plaza of Nations-based Edgewater Casino the nod to move across Pacific Boulevard to the new complex when it’s ready in 2016, but prohibited it from expanding the inventory of 600 slot machines and 75 gambling tables.

So Parq will rise beside what was almost called a park: B.C. Place Stadium was supposed to become Telus Park until Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet cancelled the 20-year, $40 million naming rights agreement in early 2012 after competitors Bell, Rogers and Shaw complained about the award of a $1 billion, 10-year government-wide telecommunications contract to Telus.

Why the complex under construction would need 60,000 square feet of conference space is anybody’s guess. Anti-casino coalition Vancouver Not Vegas speculated that it would be a convenient space with which to expand the slots and tables, if city council gave it a rethink. That would require the majority-until-2018 Vision Vancouver council to make an unpopular about face.

B.C. Place has plenty of unused space in its concourses, suites and lounges for meetings. B.C. Pavilion Corporation’s other venue, the rarely full Vancouver Convention Centre doesn’t need a competitor.

Parq casino construction site at B.C. Place.
Parq casino construction site at B.C. Place.

Could some or all of this 60,000 square feet be useful as a Las Vegas-style sports book if the Senators in Ottawa (not to be confused with the Centurions in Kanata), eventually pass Bill C-290 and send it to the House of Commons for approval? The Criminal Code amendment to allow single-event sports betting is an NDP Private Member’s Bill that has support of the governing Conservatives, though it is opposed by the NHL and NCAA.

Michael Graydon was CEO of B.C. Lottery Corporation in 2011 when he sounded the warning at the Canadian Gaming Summit in Vancouver about the aging demographics of bricks-and-mortar casino gamblers. Online and mobile gambling are a threat and an opportunity. Graydon led BCLC’s aggressive expansion online with the PlayNow website, which is heavy on sports content thanks to a contract with Ireland-based Paddy Power. A sports book would be an interesting proposition for Paragon to expand the casino without adding slots or tables. I’ll be watching the Senate’s next step in the new year.

Graydon was announced Feb. 7 as the president of PV Hospitality, the company behind the new Edgewater, now Parq. In July, he publicly apologized for being in conflict of interest after a scathing report by government auditors found that he was negotiating his new position in the final two months of his employment with the Crown corporation. He even accessed his BCLC email account after his last day of work, despite company policy.

Before Graydon’s BCLC departure, the government began an audit of BCLC as part of its ongoing Core Review. The results were released Dec. 17 and they weren’t flattering.

The Crown corporation planned to save $20 million through attrition, but spent $25 million on severance when 142 people chose to take buyouts. The board kept no minutes of in camera meetings, bid files for a significant project had been destroyed, and 30% of purchasing card transactions sampled were without receipts or non-compliant.

In an undercover test, retailers were caught selling lottery tickets to 40% of underage lottery ticket shoppers. There were 17,000 cases of illegal gambling activities, of which 1.1% resulted in charges. BCLC spent $25 million on marketing and advertising last year, but couldn’t demonstrate the effectiveness.

The same day that the financing was announced, B.C.’s Finance Ministry also announced that the province’s gambling regulator, Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, decided that Graydon need not register as a gambling worker. That also meant BCLC’s ban was lifted on Graydon communicating with his former cohorts at BCLC, who are the statutory partner of any current or future B.C. casino, like Parq.


2 thoughts on “Minding the Ps and Qs: B.C. Place casino gets a new name and financing

  1. Hawgwash

    Bob;
    Thanks for all that you do on our behalf; I look for your latest every day.
    All the best to you and yours at Christmas. Well, at all times, actually.

    Now then…Parq.
    If you read Parq backwards it sure sounds like “crap” to me.
    You don’t suppose that was intentional do you?

    Reply
    1. bobmackin Post author

      Thank-you for reading and commenting. Best wishes, to you, for peace and joy. Good observation on Parq. The minds of those in the branding field can sometimes be cheeky. I’ll endeavor to find out how those ad wizards came up with this one. It also looks a bit similar to “perq,” as in perquisites.

      Reply

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