Tag Archives: BC Place

Did Cabinet Seize Charity Money to Satisfy Casino Demands for Retractable Roof?

BC Place Roof
Photo of BC Place model, by Dustin Sacks from the Flickr Creative Commons

Mystery solved.

For two years the BC public and charities have wondered why the government took the stunning and inexplicable step of clawing back tens of millions from BC charities in one year alone, and seizing some $200 million more over 6 years.

But today it’s all clear. The BC government diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from charities and non-profits that we could have a retractable roof on BC Place Stadium instead of a dome replacement.

It’s clear from the timeline.

In the summer 2009 the BC Cabinet had a very serious problem. Their original $150 million estimate to build a retractable roof on the stadium was spinning out of control–in a single year it had more than doubled to $400 million and was growing rapidly.

Clearly, more responsible options had to be considered.

But the Las Vegas based Edgewater Casino owners, Liberal donors and insiders who hadn’t finalized their own deal with PavCo, wanted nothing to do with government fiscal responsibility. They wanted a retractable roof, and they played serious hardball to get it. Anything else was a deal-killer to them, and they made that crystal clear.

Where was the money to come from to satisfy the Edgewater Casino demands for an incredibly costly roof? Rich Coleman was the minister responsible for the BC Lottery Corporation, the casinos and also for gaming grants.

If the PavCo Edgewater deal was to survive, Rich Coleman had to be part of the solution.

This was the context in which Coleman moved in the summer of 2009 to claw back $36 million already committed to BC charities and cut them off from access to over $200 million over the next 6 years.

Today, more than two years later, as charities and non-profits across the province get ready to close, the roof opens on BC Place Stadium.

The Timeline

In May 2008, when the retractable roof was originally proposed, all-in costs were pegged at around $150 million. By November ’08 those projections had soared to $365 million.

In the spring and early summer of 2009 PavCo called for proposals to develop the BC Place lands. Paragon Gaming, the owners of Edgewater Casino and two other small market casinos in northern Alberta, submitted a bid to build a mega-casino complex onto the stadium. While that bid was under consideration, Paragon shareholder and board member T. Richard Turner, himself the former Chair of the BC Lottery Corporation, wrote a $50,000 cheque from his family company to the BC Liberal party for its May election campaign.

Mr. Turner had purchased shares in Paragon Gaming while still the Chair of BCLC, resigning from that board only months before Paragon’s purchase of the Edgewater Casino.

A month after the Liberal victory, Paragon was selected as the winning bidder, and began negotiations with PavCo to finalize terms.

But storm clouds were already forming. According to Kevin Krueger, the minister responsible, “it was very common knowledge that the bids to build the retractable roof had exceeded the estimate …fairly substantially. People knew… that (cabinet) would be wrestling with that question.”

Faced with a balking cabinet, Turner placed a call to Kevin Krueger’s private cell-phone, saying that Paragon considered its deal with PavCo “conditional upon a retractable roof,” and that failing to build one was a “deal-breaker”. The province had to call Turner’s bluff or find cash quickly.

In July 2009 Rich Coleman, minister responsible for social housing, BCLC and charitable gaming grants suddenly made what seemed then like an inexplicable move. Without warning he seized $36 million already committed to BC charities’ budgets from their legal entitlement to gaming proceeds.

With the stroke of a pen Coleman slashed grants to charities to pre-1995 levels, instantly securing just over $200 million from the charities’ gaming entitlement over 6 years.

Almost exactly the amount needed to meet Paragon’s demands for the retractable roof.

By fall 2009, events were moving quickly, but PavCo’s deal with Paragon was still not finalized. BCLC CEO Michael Graydon’s diary discloses that he brought Paragon VP Dennis Amerine before Treasury Board on October 1, 2009, where it appears yet more hardball was played.

On October 29, 2009 the province approved a budget for the BC Place roof, upgrades and temporary stadium of $575 million, almost 400% greater than the figure announced a mere 18 months earlier. PavCo went ahead with construction in May, 2010, without even waiting for Paragon to get their approvals.

We may never know why PavCo and Paragon were so confident that City Council would agree to a massive casino expansion, but gaming minister Rich Coleman’s dual responsibility for social housing may be a clue. Was there a tacit or explicit expectation that funds for social housing were linked to approvals for the Edgewater expansion? Is this why city staff’s initial public consultation only notified residents within 2 city blocks of BC Place? Why did almost no one in the city understand what was happening until a citizen’s group brought it to public attention? Why was this application so shrouded in mystery?

Whatever the true facts are, it is clear that charities and taxpayers are contributing hundreds of millions because of pressure from a casino partner that then failed to meet its own end of the bargain, and that .

The Fallout

Hundreds of BC charities and community groups across the province have quietly stopped serving their missions, or are near collapse. The Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre has closed, the Vancouver Children’s Festival is near failure, and the Museum of Vancouver and the Playhouse had to be bailed out by Vancouver taxpayers.

In the last 3 years BC charities have lost almost $100 million in gaming entitlements, destabilizing an entire employment sector responsible for 2.5% of the province’s GDP. Vital services freely available to the public, such as transportation of sick children to treatment, assistance for brain injury survivors, counseling for seniors and immigrants have been cut back or eliminated. There is no telling how many jobs have been lost, but they certainly number in the thousands. It goes without saying that entire system of charities and gaming demands a complete overhaul.

More prudent stewardship of the public purse would have saved those jobs and services and still got a perfectly good roof built for our teams.

Party insiders and cronies, backroom deals conflict of interest by those in positions of trust, the pushing around of small charitable organizations to get at their cash, and wild extravagance with the public’s money.

What is Vancouver Not Vegas up to now that the mega-casino has been defeated?

Thanks again to Vancouverites for all their support in this fight! We stood up and became active citizens in a non-partisan manner, and we prevailed! It was a good moment for Vancouver.

What will our organization do now?

Our coalition will continue. We think the BC public needs to know the whole mega-casino story, which has not yet been fully told.

In particular, we demand that BC charities be properly funded out of the billions already brought in annually by existing gambling in BC. Over many years, struggling community charities in this province were forced to advocate for gaming expansion in exchange for a promised percentage of the take. They received not one dollar of the millions earned in that expansion. They were betrayed, and all of BC suffers while massive handouts are given to the gambling industry.

We will:

•  Watch developments on the PavCo site at BC Place
•  Monitor the BC government’s push, via the BC Lottery Corp, to massively expand gambling in BC
•  Follow the unfolding story of the stadium roof and the way PavCo tied it to the casino plan, Paragon and the BCLC
•  Inform the public of the massive lucrative cash incentives handed over to the casino industry, an amount that far surpasses the amount given in other provinces
•  Call for a public accounting of the casino fight. How much did PavCo and BCLC – our public crown corporations – spend on their Edgewater mega-casino campaign, even before they had done public consultation? That was BC taxpayers’ money. How much was it? We demand to know.
•  Protest the massive gaming revenue cuts to charities and arts in this province. State-sponsored gambling in BC has expanded rapidly and its revenues have skyrocketed, and hundreds of millions have been spent on sweetheart industry deals and money-losing vanity mega-development projects. Meanwhile, charity and non-profit services at the heart of every BC community were gutted, separated from that enormous gambling revenue without explanation. To think that gambling was expanded in BC ostensibly for the purpose of supporting those charities! For too long, BC charities and non-profits have been pressured into advocating for expanded gambling with the promise of funding, only to see zero return for that advocacy, then be handed massive cuts. Not only is this insulting; see Pete McMartin’s comparison with how it’s done in Alberta if you really want to feel annoyed.

Enough is enough!

Please tell all your local MLA candidates that funding charities, non-profits, sports and arts is an election issue for you. You may also want to ask them to promise to clean up a gaming ministry and industry that are clearly out of control. BC is the only province fined —and fined heavily—for its tolerance of criminal transactions by FINTRAC, the federal gaming regulation authority. The gambling industry in this province is a disgrace. We need a full public discussion about gaming expansion, especially in light of the rapid extension of online gambling through websites and smartphones.

For the November municipal elections, please remind your candidates that you don’t want gaming expansion in your region!

Speeches by Bing Thom, Peter Ladner and Sandy Garossino

Three members of our Vancouver Not Vegas! Coalition speak out against the proposed Edgewater mega-casino.

The real relationship between the stadium roof and the proposed mega-casino?

IMG_7388 Photo: Dennis Tsang To learn more about the actual relationship between the stadium roof and the mega-casino, read this series of articles in the Vancouver Observer. Paragon, a Vegas casino company, was awarded the contract to build and operate the mega-casino in a very iffy bid process. It was awarded the contract by BC Pavilion Corp—a crown corporation known as PavCo which owns the land next between BC Place and the Cambie bridge. See here. Rumour has it that that Paragon told BC Liberal minister Kevin Krueger last year that without a retractable roof on the stadium, Paragon would refuse to build the mega-casino because supposedly without the draw of a retractable stadium roof, the stadium wouldn’t attract enough clientele to the casino. As for the mega-casino, this is a process that has been occurred very much under the radar of most Vancouverites who are unaware of what’s coming: a new development three times the size of the original Edgewater Casino currently located in an inconspicious spot on the other side of the stadium. City Hall has been strangely silent on the issue of this massive gambling expansion, considering that the BC government application to the city to expand gambling within our city limits will soon be before Council.

Stadium roof scandal?

Some are saying that the retractable roof, one of the most expensive in the world, will cost twice  the public estimate, and apparently engineers are not even sure that the underlying structure will support the roof in all conditions.  At the very least, the City must get a full independent seismic assessment before granting the rezoning. And that’s not the only thing that City Council should be demanding of the provincial government before it negotiates further with them. Before Vancouver considers the government’s applications to expand gaming in Vancouver and to rezone the new casino site for a mega-development, the City needs to get the provincial government’s assurance that it will actually meet its legal obligations to hand over 1/3 of gaming revenues to BC’s charities and non-profits. (If the BC govt had honoured their 1999 Memorandum of Agreement, a legal document, they would have paid BC’s crucial charities and non-profits $1.3 bn more than they did; that amount is now in arrears). Both the City and Minister Coleman need to start coming clean about these developments.