Members of our Vancouver Not Vegas! Coalition speak to Vancouver City Council on February 1, arguing against gaming expansion in the City of Vancouver. The opportunity to speak to Council has come as a result of Councillor Ellen Woodsworth’s motion caling for further examination of gaming practices in British Columbia before the City of Vancouver proceeds with allowing further gaming expansion within its jurisdiction.
Our coalition is speaking in support of Councillor Woodsworth’s motion.
The following presentation to Council is by Sandy Garossino. Sandy Garossino addressed Council as a former Crown prosecutor with specialized experience in gang prosecutions, and as a mother.
(For presentations by Sean Bickerton, Amir Ali Alibhai and Tom Durrie, click here; Sandy’s presentation is posted separately due to its length.)
February 1, 2011
Sandra Garossino—Submission to Vancouver City Council
No Public Debate of Gambling Expansion
In 10 short years gambling in BC has come a very long way from the smoky bingo halls and church basements where this all started. We are long overdue for a full debate on the role and limits of gambling in the public realm.
How far does the BC Lottery Corporation intend to expand?
The public has no idea, and neither do municipal councils. We are all forced to wait passively for each new application from corporate interests that do not answer to voters.
The time has come for full public consultations and review of provincial oversight of the gaming industry.
As of today the BC Association for Charitable Gaming has amassed more than 1200 signatures of Vancouverites asking Council to support the non-profit entitlement to gaming proceeds–this will be presented in due course.
Gaming Cuts Affect Essential Services
Gaming cuts affect vital public services to aboriginal suicide crisis lines, brain injury survivors, seniors services, therapy for kids with fatal illnesses, soup kitchens, transportation of sick kids to hospital. Society cannot do without these services, and we could never afford to pay public employees to provide them.
Just this last weekend the Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre announced its closure due to gaming cuts. More will follow soon unless the cuts are reversed immediately.
Alberta Gaming Model Better than BC’s
BC’s gaming model is not efficient or competitive. Operating at capital lower cost, with a higher net return to government, Alberta is able to generate a staggering $323 million to charities (or $87 per capita). BC only manages $120 million for charities (or $28 per capita), and a lower net return. See “BC Lottery Corp spending spree while charities reel” in the Vancouver Observer.
Meanwhile, as Pete McMartin’s coverage shows, BC has handed out $400 million to private casino developers in recent years. And capital expenditures are on the rise. The BC Lottery Corporation is set to spend almost $350 million in new capital spending over the next 3 years alone. For a corporation with no bricks and mortar gaming facilities, $350 million in capital costs over three years is strikingly high.
Casino Vulnerability to Crime
The casino business is not a typical corporate operation. It is especially vulnerable to abuse, and iron-clad protections are necessary to protect its integrity.
We know that organized crime is a multi-billion dollar industry. Vancouver is Ground Zero in a gang war that has spun completely out of control. Our kids are being woken in their beds by gunfire at Christmastime. After her 2009 murder, loan shark Betty Yan’s kids were expelled from their prominent west side Vancouver school, leaving parents to explain why their children’s friends had to suddenly leave school. Right on Jericho Beach in 2006, we dug up the body of another loan shark, Lilly Li.
At the 2009 trial of her murderer, Li’s loan shark employer described how he staffed the River Rock Casino 24 hours a day, 7 days a week–and that his staff maintained minimum daily floats of $20-30,000. That’s the float. There is no way an operation like that can exist without the knowledge of management. Please see this news report on loan sharks.
And who are the clients of loan sharks? Our own citizens, whose addiction and despair is unseen, due to fear and shame. They have families and children, too, who are also our citizens in need of our help and protection. But instead of protecting them, we profit from their misery and risk. There is no way to know how much money the BC Lottery Corporation earns from the existence of loan sharks in casinos.
There used to be a special RCMP unit dedicated to gambling crime, called the IIGET. Its heavily redacted report to government in January 2009, cites a number of serious risk factors;
a) extreme vulnerability of casinos to money laundering;
b) potential influence of organized crime figures at casinos, and possible infiltration of the casino industry;
c) conflict of interest and perception of corruption undermining the integrity of the gaming industry;
d) ZERO investigation of suspicious money transactions flagged by FINTRAC (Financial Reports Analysis Centre of Canada http://www.fintrac.gc.ca/fintrac-canafe/antimltf-eng.asp).
Please see the RCMP report on money-laundering
Weeks after its report (which sought additional funding for investigations and enforcement) was issued, the provincial government disbanded the IIGET (citing budgetary reasons). BC now has no specialized policing of gambling venues. Since then, the situation worsened, and in 2010 the BCLC was fined $670,000 by the federal government–the first fine of its kind in Canada. Finally, there was the shocking CBC report last month documenting millions of dollars in suspicious transactions–this is AFTER being fined for non-compliance by FINTRAC.
Published news accounts indicate it is common practice for casino clients to carry half a million dollars around in small bills in plastic bags.
It’s true. Carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in plastic bags is common. If your business is drug dealing, gun-running, human trafficking, or extortion. Or terrorism–for which Metro Vancouver also has an unfortunate predilection.
Questions have to be asked–what kind of law enforcement is this? What was in the redacted portions of the IIGET report, particularly those relating to conflict of interest and potential corruption? What was the real reason for disbanding IIGET?
The warning signs are clear. We are playing with fire, and this thing is going to blow up in our faces if we do not exercise the utmost caution.
We must stop burying gambling expansion applications deep inside land re-zoning applications.
Casino owners must apply to municipal council to license every single slot machine and gaming table they own. These applications should be publicly announced and considered separately on their own merits.
In the case of the Edgewater Casino, however, the gambling expansion application is only found buried in the fine print of PavCo’s land rezoning application. This fundamentally misrepresents the true aim and purpose of the whole exercise, which is to introduce a giant casino to Vancouver.
This is a clear attempt to evade open public review of casinos.
Gambling expansion is a major civic issue that calls on government to actively engage with the public and generate a healthy vigorous debate on this vital issue.
It is worth noting that Paragon Gaming, the owners of Edgewater Casino, recently lost a competitive bid to develop a casino in Missouri, in a 5-0 vote. Why were they not able to attract a single vote of support? Are they the best candidate for Vancouver?
All debate should have taken place BEFORE PavCo signed a 70 year lease with anyone.
Gambling proponents have endless capacity to finance sophisticated PR campaigns. Giving 5 minutes to private citizens in a rushed municipal hearing is no way for the democratic process to work–and eventually we will all pay for this flawed process.
The public needs Vancouver City Council to show leadership today. Please review this process and find a more open and democratic approach to this serious issue.