Paragon rolling the dice again on BC Place casino

Paragon Gaming is rolling the dice on another bid to build a new Edgewater Casino next to BC Place stadium on land it wants to lease from BC Pavilion Corp. (PavCo).

BC Place with Edgewater Casino in front

Paragon Gaming is rolling the dice on another bid to build a new Edgewater Casino next to BC Place stadium on land it wants to lease from BC Pavilion Corp. (PavCo).

But the private, Las Vegas-headquartered company is seeking unspecified financial help to bring a scaled-back plan to life after city council shot down its 2011 bid to build Western Canada's biggest destination casino.

Paragon revealed on a new website called that it signed an updated master development agreement with PavCo in March for a 70-year lease, which calls for PavCo to receive "an estimated $3 million per year" from the hotel, retail and restaurant complex anchored by Edgewater Casino. Site 10A is the city hall designation for the taxpayer-owned parcel within the Northeast False Creek zone. The website was registered on June 19 and disclosed to Business in Vancouver on July 9.

By email, Paragon spokeswoman Tamara Hicks told BIV that the company will "continue to seek partnerships for the new project. These partnership discussions remain confidential."

In a late May interview, Hicks told BIV: "We've talked to a lot of gaming companies, I'm not going to confirm or deny who it is, but I can say we've been in discussions with various gaming companies."

President Scott Menke did not respond to repeated interview requests from BIV. Hicks said he is unavailable. Menke and Paragon CEO Diana Bennett were contracted in late June to manage the struggling Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Edgewater's permit to operate at the Plaza of Nations expires July 31, so Paragon is applying for renewal through 2016 when it hopes to open the BC Place casino. The application will be heard by the city's development permit board on July 15.

Paragon unanimously lost an April 2011 Vancouver city council vote on its bid to expand the 75-table, 600-slot machine licence to 150 tables and 1,500 slots. The company said it wanted to build a $500 million complex with two Marriott International Inc. hotels. City council, however, automatically permitted the company to move the existing licence to the land on the stadium's west side.

The $3 million-a-year lease payments, earmarked to lessen the debt on the $514 million stadium renovation, are half the originally proposed $6 million. The 70-year term is the same as previously disclosed. The casino sent almost $6.1 million in royalties to city hall for the year ended March 31, 2013, substantially less than the $10 million to $12 million envisioned in 2006 when Paragon bought the casino out of bankruptcy.

The Paragon proposal, however, faces a renewed legal challenge from the Vancouver Not Vegas anti-casino coalition that spearheaded the 2011 expansion opposition. A BC Supreme Court petition filed November 7, 2011, seeks to quash the proposal because neither the city nor PavCo allegedly followed procedures.

Vancouver Not Vegas was spurred back to action by April 25 comments made to CBC by then-PavCo chair Peter Fassbender.

Fassbender, who was elected on May 14 for the BC Liberals in Surrey-Fleetwood, reacted to NDP leader Adrian Dix's campaign promise to privatize money-losing, debt-laden BC Place by claiming Paragon had a new lease deal for a 99-year term.

"The fact that we have signed agreements between ourselves and Paragon is a major step forward," Fassbender told CBC at the time. "Any agreement that they make would bind any future owner of the facility."

Fassbender back-tracked almost a week later in an interview with BIV, claiming "they're still in negotiations." He quit PavCo's board before he was sworn in as education minister June 10.

But, as the website now claims, the new deal between PavCo and Paragon was done in March, before the election and while Fassbender was the Crown corporation's chair.

While Paragon is refloating the BC Place proposal, the company is transferring ownership of its River Cree Resort near Edmonton to its partner, the Enoch Cree Nation.

In April 2011, Paragon defaulted on a $111 million loan after the Alberta government stopped payments from the First Nations Development Fund.

"The long standing agreement between the Nation and Paragon stipulated the intention to ultimately transfer ownership of the operation to River Cree Nation and this agreement is entirely consistent with that objective," Hicks said.