Paragon’s Parq makes waves in local casino market

Local gamblers likely to roll dice on city’s new downtown casino, but will they return?

Paragon Gaming’s new Parq casino is part of a larger entertainment complex with 517 hotel rooms and eight food-and-beverage outlets | Rob Kruyt

Metro Vancouver gamblers have somewhere new to go thanks to Paragon Gaming LLC’s two-level, 72,000-square-foot Parq casino in downtown Vancouver, which opened in September, about a year behind schedule and roughly $95 million over its original budget.

However, the extent to which the venue will draw customers away from other casinos in the region remains to be seen.

Parq’s September 29 launch was so busy that the Vancouver fire department ordered the casino’s main Beatty Street entrance closed because it was over capacity, but that first-night volume was largely because there was a Coldplay concert next door at BC Place stadium.

The British rock band’s fans were among the first to try their luck at Parq’s 600 slot machines and 75 game tables – the same assortment of gambling options that was at the company’s now-closed Edgewater Casino, which had been a short distance away at the Plaza of Nations. Vancouver city council in 2011 rejected Paragon’s bid to operate a much larger gaming facility.

Unlike Paragon’s Edgewater venue, Parq is part of a much larger complex and is bookended with two Marriott International Inc. (Nasdaq:MAR) properties: a 188-room Douglas Autograph Collection hotel and a 329-room JW Marriott hotel. 

The complex, which cost an estimated $640 million – up from an original $535 million budget – also has eight places where visitors can get food or drinks. A 60,000-square-foot ballroom, Vancouver’s largest, is on the sixth floor, several floors directly above the casino's gaming floor.

Those amenities will undoubtedly help the casino attract more visitors than did Edgewater, which was comparatively far from entertainment venues and hotels.

Competitors, however, sound unfazed.

“We have seen virtually no impact from the early days opening of Parq,” said Great Canadian Gaming Corp. (TSX:GC) CEO Rod Baker in a November 9 conference call. 

His company operates many gambling facilities, including B.C.’s largest (River Rock Casino Resort) and fourth-largest casino complex (Coquitlam’s Hard Rock Casino Vancouver), according to Business in Vancouver's new list of largest casinos and bingo halls in B.C.

“Certainly at these early days, including through the honeymoon phase, there has been, I would say, no impact, including no negative impact on River Rock’s operations,” Baker said.

He later downplayed the opening of Parq, calling it a “migration of gaming capacity from one location, across the street, to another location.”

Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd. public relations director Tanya Gabara told BIV that Parq could have an initial impact on Gateway facilities such as Metro Vancouver’s second-largest casino complex, Burnaby’s Grand Villa Casino Hotel & Conference Centre.

“We do expect that the opening of any property will drive a portion of the clientele to visit and see the new offerings,” she said. 

“Our focus is to ensure what we are presenting to the marketplace is of the highest quality. Customers will return to the property in which they have the best experience.”

University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business lecturer Ann Stone agreed that gamblers around the region will likely be tempted to try the Parq at least once.

The key, however, is that they have a good experience.

“The first weeks and months are the hardest [for a new entertainment facility] to have consistent consumer experiences,” said Stone, who teaches in the area of marketing and consumer behavourial science.

“It is because all of the employees are new and they’re learning their roles, and the location is different, and the processes are different and the management team is different. You have this influx of all these people who are going to give you the one-time-or-I’m-out evaluation, but you’re not at your very finest. You’re just getting to your very finest.”•