We received this letter today:
March 9, 2011
SIMPSON CALLS ON PREMIER-DESIGNATE TO EXAMINE GAMING ISSUES
VICTORIA – New Democrat gaming critic Shane Simpson has sent a letter to Premier-designate Christy Clark laying out a number of concerns resulting in a crisis of confidence in government-run gambling in British Columbia. Simpson’s letter outlines government mismanagement of gaming issues, including dealing with problem gambling, providing stable and adequate funding to community organizations through gaming grants, addressing concerns about expanding gambling, and monitoring and enforcement of money laundering in casinos.
The original letter is attached as a PDF, and the text is also copied below.
Text of Shane Simpson’s letter to Premier-designate Christy Clark:
Dear Premier-designate Clark,
I am writing concerning the crisis of confidence that is growing in British Columbia regarding government-run gambling in our province. British Columbians are seeing a Minister who does not have a handle on his file and consequently a BC Lottery Corporation that is out of control.
This is best exemplified by the wide-ranging opposition to the Paragon proposal for downtown Vancouver; this opposition crosses political lines and is clearly fuelled by the public’s deep concern over the BCLC’s and your government’s approach to gaming.
The complete mismanagement of problem gambling has increased the risk for some 156,000 of our citizens, as identified by the BC Medical Association. This has been exacerbated by your government’s decision, with no consultation, to expand online gambling, including increasing spending limits to $9,999 from $120 per week, a move that addictions experts have called risky and irresponsible.
British Columbians continue to hear story after story about organized crime being involved in our casinos. Just yesterday, we learned of new concerns around the BCLC’s failure to prevent people from walking into casinos with suitcases full of cash and chips then cashing out with little scrutiny. The media reports of mismanagement are too numerous to list, and include issues that have led FINTRAC to fine the province $670,000 for over 1,000 reporting violations. Many of these concerns have been reinforced by RCMP comments about the inadequacies of the BCLC response.
The bungling of the launch of PlayNow.com leading to a privacy breach and a month-long delay in the launch of the site added to questions about the management of this file.
The BCLC response to these concerns have been reactive at best, with much more attention being paid to million-dollar ad campaigns trying to paper over these problems, something that few British Columbians find acceptable.
Worse still, the government’s decision to slash gaming grants has led to severe hardship or the closure of hundreds of community organizations. None of this is helped by the refusal of the government to separate the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch and the BCLC into different ministries; the need to separate enforcement from promotion of gambling is obvious to most British Columbians, but not to many of your colleagues at the cabinet table.
While I understand you have announced your intention to set up a commission with a somewhat vague mandate, I see no reason to believe this will be able to adequately address these issues. Given the critical nature of the problem, I believe government must not stall the important task of taking a comprehensive look at all aspects of how gambling is conducted in the province, and I also believe the Legislature needs to play a role in that review. The mechanism for this is through the Select Standing Committee on Crown Corporations, which could prove more effective both in terms of time and money.
For these reasons, I am calling on you to reconvene the Special Committee of Selection so that the Legislative Assembly can appoint members to the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations, which could then be reconvened and directed to do an immediate and full review of government gambling including the calling of witnesses. This could easily occur at the same time the Legislature addresses a date change for the HST vote.
The committee must address a number of critical issues, including, but not limited to:
1) How to properly support problem gambling. Of critical importance to this discussion is the separation of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch into a separate government ministry from BCLC’s gambling promotion activities.
2) How to provide stable and adequate funding to charities and community organizations who are supposed to benefit from gambling revenues as part of the government’s social contract. The $15 million increase you have promised to community organizations still falls $24 million short of 2008/09 funding levels.
3) How to address the significant concerns of the people of British Columbia who worry about expanding gambling, as evidenced by the widespread opposition to the expansion of the downtown Vancouver casino.
4) How to effectively monitor and crack down on illegal money laundering activity in casinos.
5) An assessment of the proliferation of gambling facilities in the Lower Mainland and whether it is now counterproductive to continue expansion.
Given the serious nature of these issues, I am calling for you to take drastic action including replacing Mr. Coleman as the Minister responsible for this file, and instructing BCLC to immediately suspend any gaming expansion, including the Paragon relocation and expansion project in Vancouver, until the committee has reported out to the Assembly. These actions would demonstrate your agreement that this file needs real and immediate attention. I trust you agree with me that this is an urgent matter, and as such the committee should be directed to report back within eight months.
Gambling revenues have become an important source for government. However, the people of British Columbia expect a high standard of scrutiny and responsibility with this file. They have not received that from the Minister or the BCLC. They now expect you to act.
I look forward to your response.
Shane Simpson, MLA, Vancouver-Hastings
Opposition Critic for Housing and Social Development