Tag Archives: T. Richard Turner

Brazen Conflict of Interest by Former CEO Exposes Feeble Governance at BCLC

Michael Graydon BCLC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Vancouver, Feb. 7, 2014

Brazen Conflict of Interest by Former CEO Exposes Feeble Governance at BCLC

The resignation of Michael Graydon as CEO of BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) to assume the role of president of PV Hospitality ULC in which Paragon Gaming Corporation is a partner raises serious conflict of interest and BCLC governance concerns says Vancouver Not Vegas.

“It’s a grave concern that the BCLC, which oversees an industry requiring the highest standard of integrity and transparency, would permit a departure of this kind from expected ethical standards”, says founding member Ian Pitfield.

“The Federal Government applies post-employment restrictions to public office holders.  Why should the Province not insist on the same restrictions for senior employees of Crown Corporations?” Pitfield asks.

The Vancouver Not Vegas coalition calls for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding this move, and asks the BC government to answer the following questions regarding this and other governance issues within BCLC (BC Lottery Corp):

  • When did Michael Graydon begin employment discussions with Paragon, a company of which he was the regulator?
  • What assurances or commitments did he make to Paragon, his future employer, while he was in discussions with them concerning compensation, terms, etc?
  • What knowledge did the BCLC have of employment discussions between Graydon and Paragon, and did it approve it?
  • Why, after BCLC chair Richard Turner bought shares in Paragon Gaming in 2004, did the BCLC not institute a firewall policy preventing employment or financial relationships between senior executives. board members and regulated corporations?
  • Senior management at BCLC are in possession of significant confidential financial information pertaining to all gambling operators in BC. It’s unthinkable that it has failed to safeguard that trust by preventing conflicting employment agreements for senior executives.

It is unthinkable that BCLC has failed to safeguard the trust by prohibiting key employees from assuming employment with regulated gaming companies for a period of two or three years following retirement or resignation. But today’s news is only one chapter in a history of governance breakdowns.

Documented lapses in governance at BCLC include:

  • Unprecedented $700K FINTRAC fine in 2010
  • Documented loan-sharking, money-laundering in casinos
  • BCLC Chair Richard Turner’s acquisition of shares in Paragon in 2004, and subsequent move to become director.

Today’s revelation, combined with a repeated pattern of inept governance points to a rudderless corporation unable to exercise basic control over its key operations.

– 30 –

Media contacts:

Sandy Garossino
Please TEXT queries to:
778-231-5230

Ian Pitfield
604-828-5494

http://vancouvernotvegas.ca

See also this original story.

VNV Calls For Review of the Financing of BC Place Stadium Upgrade and Roof Construction

Vancouver Not Vegas Calls For a Review of the Financing of the BC Place Stadium Upgrade and Roof Construction

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vancouver, September 30, 2011

Vancouver Not Vegas calls for a Review of the financing of the BC Place Stadium up grade and roof construction.

“We don’t know the reason the provincial government departed from the normal practice of securing substantial private sector funding for a project of this nature, and chose to under-write all costs,” says Sandy Garossino, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas. “But the timeline of events strongly suggests that the government found the necessary capital for the retractable roof option by instituting devastating cuts to charities and non-profits.”

Major urban stadiums are normally funded primarily through private sector contributions.

• Toronto’s SkyDome was 16% publicly funded, 31 corporations funded the balance;

• Cowboy Stadium in Dallas was 28% publicly funded following a public referendum, with the teams and corporate sponsors providing the balance.

• BC Place Stadium is 100% publicly funded. There has been no disclosure of the business plan supporting this level of public investment.

In the summer of 2009 the provincial cabinet was struggling with cost containment on the stadium roof, because estimates had nearly tripled from when the project was first proposed only one year earlier.

Liberal donor, former BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) chair and Edgewater representative Richard Turner threatened to withdraw Edgewater’s participation if cabinet did not approve the retractable roof.

In this same period Rich Coleman was minister responsible for BCLC and for gaming grant distribution. He moved in the summer of 2009 to seize $36 million in budgeted and committed gaming grants, and institute long-term cuts that would provide another $200 million over 6 years to the government.

“The public needs to know that financing of the roof construction was conducted in a responsible manner that best serves the interests of all British Columbians province-wide. Until these questions are answered, it seems that financing decisions were driven by the interests of Liberal donors and the Edgewater Casino,” says Lindsay Brown, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas.

For more information on the stadium roof, its history and financing, please see our stadium roof post and a detailed timeline.

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.

Summary of issues surrounding the Edgwater Casino expansion plan

UPDATE: here is a fuller summary of issues with the Edgewater Casino expansion (PDF with hyperlinks).

This post is for those interested in some of the more technical details surrounding the Edgewater Casino application. To read the full application, visit the City of Vancouver site.

Procedural Issues

1. No Adequate Notice to Public

The application before Council is described as a re-zoning application by PavCo (crown corporation BC Pavilion Co). Included, but not detailed in the public notice, is a second application by Edgewater Casino for a by-law amendment licensing approximately 1000 new slot machines and 75 new slot machines; Notices mailed only to residents within a 2 block radius of the project, etc.

No notice to public of scale of expansion: gaming floor equivalent to two NFL football fields (114k sq. ft)

2. Due Diligence gaps

a) Calculation of expected revenues only, no calculation of expected costs–policing, counseling, housing homeless;
b) No report on mental health and addiction issues/social ills;
c) Policing report is one paragraph long. Only one sentence respecting organized crime, money laundering. No estimate of impact or cost to manage. No weapons policy or enforcement provisions in a casino/hotel/sports complex. No reference to the RCMP report cautioning about extreme vulnerability to organized crime and infiltration.
d) Background check of Paragon Gaming–corporate profile misrepresented in public materials. No assessment of suitability to operate a major project of this scale.

3. Key Information Relevant to Public Review

PavCo represents that there is no risk to the taxpayer in the corporate structure of the project; however:

The BC Lottery Corporation Facility Development Commissions (FDC) and Accelerated Facility Development Commissions (AFDC) cover roughly 42% of casino capital development expenses.

Do FDC’s and AFDC’s extend to ancillary buildings such as hotels, restaurants, theatres, and parkades?

Projections indicate the cost of the complex will be approximately $450 million. 42% is almost $190 million in public money. The BC Lottery Corporation has budgeted for capital expenditures of $346 million over the next 3 fiscal years. What percentage of that will go into the Edgewater development?

a) Public disclosure of all financial commitments
b) Public disclosure of the deal structure: Is there an incentive to overbuild? How are expenses calculated and netted out?

4. Irregularities in the BC Lottery Corporation and PavCo Bid Process

a) BC Lottery Corporation board chair Richard Turner purchases shares in Paragon Gaming (operating in Alberta) in 2003. Share purchase violates board code of conduct, and is not disclosed until 2005.
b) In late 2005 Turner resigns from BCLC board. Summer 2006 Paragon Gaming purchases Edgewater Casino out of bankruptcy and installs Turner on the board of Paragon.
c) Fall 2008, City plan for Northeast False Creek is amended to permit major casino at request of PavCo.
d) March 2009, PavCo puts out an RFEI (Expressions of Interest), with an 18 day window. Only two respondents, including Paragon, reply. While the Paragon bid is before PavCo during the RFP phase one month later, Turner issues a $50k cheque to the BC Liberal Party. Paragon Gaming is the successful bidder
e) Autumn 2009 Turner places a phone call to Minister Kevin Krueger advising that Paragon will withdraw if the roof is not built per plans.

What were all the communications between Richard Turner and PavCo in the period 2005-2009?

5. Criminal Concerns

2006: Richmond loan shark Lily Li is murdered. Evidence emerges at trial that loan sharks operate on shifts 24/7 inside River Rock Casino;
2009, January: RCMP special unit IIGET (Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team) issues a report to government warning of “extreme vulnerability” of casino industry to organized crime–money laundering, infiltration, loan sharking. No resources to investigate suspected money laundering. Concerns expressed about perception of conflict of interest and corruption. Most information redacted from report.
2009. February: IIGET disbanded
2010/ Summer: BC Lottery Corporation fined by FINTRAC for repeated failure to monitor suspicious transactions. First fine of its kind in Canada.
2010/August-October: CBC investigates over $8 million in suspicious transactions at 2 casinos in Metro Vancouver, including $460k in 20’s in plastic bags, and a suitcase with $1.2 million in casino chips.
Insp. Baxter, head of Proceeds of Crime Unit, calls transactions suspicious. Solicitor General Rich Coleman, also responsible for gaming, disagrees that transactions are suspicious and publicly disagrees with Baxter.

Conclusion: Weak BCLC enforcement of rules of conduct and poor compliance and oversight of casinos, leaving the industry vulnerable to uncontrolled criminal conduct and potentially to infiltration.

6. Paragon Gaming: Parent Co of Edgewater

All other projects and operations are on First Nations reserves in the US and Canada. All are small market. No international tourism expertise. No expertise with the Asian market.

BC’s model: Closed door bidding process with a single (geographically pre-selected) casino applicant, and no public input.

By contrast, Missouri recently awarded a casino license in an open, public, competitive bidding process, with multiple applicants and more than one physical location. The successful bidder demonstrated both strong community support via a referendum, and strong local roots in the community. Paragon Gaming was one of the bidders in this process, but was unable to garner a single vote of support from the Missouri Gaming Commission.

US small market casino operations have notoriety, particularly vis-à-vis political corruption. In more than one instance, individuals with some connection to Paragon Gaming or their advisors have been implicated, charged, or convicted on political corruption charges. A detailed background check on Paragon Gaming is recommended, including investigation of the relationship of Paragon principles with Milton McGregor and Robert Sigler (shareholder in Paragon Gaming Missouri) of Alabama.