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BC Gov't Abandons Pitch for Slot Gambling on Ferries

BCLC analysis finds proposal would be a money loser for publicly owned company.

Andrew MacLeod 8 Jun 2015TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia government is abandoning a plan to introduce slot machines or other gambling aboard BC Ferries.

A BC Lottery Corporation analysis found the idea, which Transportation Minister Todd Stone pitched in 2013 as a way to reduce ferry fares, would be a money loser for the publicly owned ferry company.

"Ultimately, the costs, risks and procedural changes required to operate [gaming devices] on a BC Ferries vessel outweigh the financial gains of this Business Opportunity," said the briefing document Business Opportunity Review for Electronic Gaming on BC Ferries, dated October 2014 and released June 8.

While the lottery corporation would make a profit, BC Ferries would lose $240,563 a year from operating slot machines on the two large Spirit Class vessels that run between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, the analysis said.

Putting slot machines on the three Coastal Class vessels would generate a loss about three times that size, it said.

Introducing gambling would add costs for staffing, technology infrastructure and equipment, it said. There could also be security concerns, disputes, thefts, children left unattended, and "other issues [that] carry the potential to damage the reputation of BC Ferries and BCLC, as well as cause delays in the boarding and disembarking of passengers on the vessel," it said.

"British Columbians have told the government to explore new and innovative ways to keep ferry fare increases affordable, which is why we explored the idea of introducing gaming on the BC Ferries," Minister Stone was quoted saying in a media release. "We'll remain open to other revenue-generating services."

Not a winning idea

The BCLC analysis also said there were many details to work out, including the fact that Washington State might be entitled to a share of the revenue since the vessels use international waters and are not cruise ships.

Nor was it clear who the "host local government" of the project would be, something that is required under B.C. gambling laws. "Changes would also need to be made to the Gaming Control Act, Provincial Policy, and BCLC Policies and Procedures in order to facilitate gaming outside the current gaming model," the analysis said.

Stone first announced the plan to introduce gambling on ferries as part of a news conference about cuts to service and the reduction of the discount for seniors.

In October 2014, The Tyee reported that Stone had taken the idea to cabinet without first consulting the branch of the finance ministry that regulates gambling in the province. When officials in that branch learned of the plan, they had many concerns, including the fact that it was illegal for a company like BC Ferries to negotiate the hosting of gambling.

NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena has said in the past that the plan for slot machines on BC Ferries vessels seemed as though it was developed on the back of a napkin, and should have been more thoroughly thought out before it was floated publicly.

"The whole idea of gaming on the ferries was absurd," Trevena said in a phone interview today. "It was misguided from the outset to raise this."

She said it's good that the government is abandoning the idea, but that much time and resources have already been wasted pursuing it. The government needs to focus on reducing fares which will increase ridership and improve BC Ferries bottom line, she said. "The equation isn't that difficult."  [Tyee]

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