The owners of Chances Chilliwack gaming centre rolled the dice and lost, at least in the short-term.
A deadlocked 3-3 vote on Tuesday by city council forced the denial of the gaming centre's application for an expanded liquor licence after a number of local pub owners expressed opposition.
The application for a liquor licence amendment was to "add an entertainment endorsement to allow for patron participation (artists, pianists, live bands, dancing, amateur nights/talent shows, karaoke/sing-a-longs, comedians, etc.) within the main dining area and on the outside patio."
Council's decision either way is to be forwarded on to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, which has the final say.
The application and subsequent discussion at council Tuesday illustrated some grey areas and confusion about liquor licences.
"In a restaurant they are not permitted to have music, bands, dance," Mayor Sharon Gaetz explained, adding that she didn't think there was a grey area. "This is not allowed to happen and this [application] is simply a request to be able to allow that to happen."
The owners of Friendly Mike's, Corky's Irish Pub and the Jolly Miller all submitted letters of concern or opposition to the application.
Both Friendly Mike's general manager John Toussaint and Corky's owner Bob Harms were in attendance.
Toussaint said he and the owner of Friendly Mike's originally supported Chances, although they were suspicious in advance that the owners would "first go low-key and then sneak in this application for full bar afterwards."
Harms said the application clouded the distinction between food primary and liquor primary and that Chances was causing unfair competition because The Well, as a restaurant, does allow minors.
"What's the difference between this place with these amendments and a pub?" Harms asked.
Gaetz, who supported the application, did address issues with advertising in the community that gave people the impression The Well was a pub.
She read from marketing material that talked about an "after-work pint" and the "perfect neighbourhood watering hole" and "take a break from the typical Chilliwack pub scene."
Gaetz called this latter statement "offensive."
"I don't think we would have this opposition if The Well had not had this kind of provocative advertisement," she said. "It obviously sticks in the craw of bar owners in Chilliwack."
Great Canadian Gaming vice-president Howard Blank was in attendance to support the application and answer questions. Blank said he would address the establishment's marketing material immediately.
"I don't think we are trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes," Blank said.
As part of the discussion, staff also reported The Well was a member of Bar Watch, something that the company claimed on its application. But the chairperson of the local Bar Watch addressed council to tell them this was not true.
Blank said he thought the company was a Bar Watch member.
"We think it's a noble operation and if we aren't involved, we will be," he said.
Coun. Ken Huttema moved to deny the application, which was seconded by Coun. Chuck Stam.
"We need to send a bit of a message here," Huttema said. "If you want to act like a pub then make an application for a pub."
Stam said he was concerned approving the application might set a dangerous precedent and that a "Moxie's-type" restaurant could move to town and make a similar application.
Both Coun. Jason Lum and Gaetz argued the real issue seemed to be one of other establishments afraid of the competition.
"I hesitate to see local government start to interfere in the local economy and competition," Lum said. "I believe competition will serve the citizens well."
In the end council was deadlocked 3-3 (Coun. Sue Attrill was absent) on the motion do deny the application, which defeated the motion.
Council then voted again 3-3 to approve the application. Gaetz mistakenly then said the motion passed because Robert's Rules of Order says a positive motion in a tie passes. Discussion with city staff later revealed that according to the city's procedural bylaw, a tie vote defeats a motion.
Gaetz has called for the matter to come back for reconsideration at a future meeting when all of council is present.
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