Opinion

Why BC Liberals Love Gambling

You need only follow the money -- and the players.

By Bill Tieleman 27 Jul 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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Gordon Campbell once opposed gambling growth.

"A B.C. Liberal government will stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families." -- B.C. Liberals New Era promise, 2001

Hope you didn't bet on that one!

But why has the B.C. Liberal Party done a complete 180-degree turn from strongly fighting gambling when in opposition to presiding over a massive expansion of gaming?

Why did the B.C. Lottery Corporation introduce its PlayNow.com addictive online gambling site -- which immediately crashed -- in the same week we learn it was fined $670,000 by federal financial regulators for 1,020 violations of the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act on casino transactions over $10,000?

And why won't minister responsible Rich Coleman fire Michael Graydon, the $383,000 a year CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation?

Simple -- follow the money. And the lobbyists.

This government has a gambling addiction second to none -- it cannot stay away from the blackjack tables and slot machines because it desperately needs the money just to pay off its bad debts -- B.C.'s massive $1.8 billion deficit.

Preach abstinence, bet the house?

When it comes to gambling, Premier Gordon Campbell neither knows his limit nor plays within it -- he needs to apply for "problem gambler" status so he'll be banned at the casino doors.

Campbell preached like an evangelical revival-tent pastor against gambling when the New Democratic Party was in office -- praying for an end to this scourge on humanity.

But once in power, Campbell became a sinner, expanding all forms of gambling in order to increase net government revenue by 265 per cent -- from $414 million in 2001 to more than $1.1 billion today.

Meanwhile, who is the top lobbyist for Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, the large gambling company that runs several B.C. casinos and horseracing tracks as well as other operations across the country?

Who is the lobbyist with an undertaking from Great Canadian that started in August 2005 and continues through until April 2013?

Why it's Patrick Kinsella, the B.C. Liberal Party's former election campaign chair and co-chair in the 2001 and 2005 provincial votes, the most influential backroom guy in the business and a man who has donated more than $77,000M either through his Progressive Holdings or Progressive Strategies businesses to the party since 2005.

Casino makes things 'cosier'

Kinsella -- also a well-known horse owner with entries running at Hastings Racecourse nearly every weekend -- summarizes his business on the B.C. Lobbyists registry as: "Casino operations in partnership with B.C. Lotteries Corporation."

Just to keep things even cosier with the provincial government, who did Great Canadian hire in May to become senior vice-president of operations? Why Vic Poleschuk -- the former CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, who was terminated with $603,000 severance after a report from B.C. Ombudsman Kim Carter found a "lack of scrutiny for the 99 per cent of the winning [lottery] tickets and 80 per cent of the prize money paid out for wins under $10,000."

And who did Public Eye Online discover was scheduled to meet Poleschuck repeatedly in 2006 and 2007? Yes, lobbyist Patrick Kinsella.

'Whacked' by money-laundering guardian

The only bad bet the B.C. Liberals made was to wager against the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, the federal regulator that guards against money laundering.

And the B.C. Lottery Corporation lost badly. It was fined $670,000 for violating the reporting rules 1,020 times -- but kept it secret until CKNW's Brett Mineer got the scoop.

It turns out the B.C. Lottery Corporation was also the only provincial gambling authority to be whacked by FINTRAC.

While Graydon calls them "administrative" breaches, FINTRAC wasn't impressed.

FINTRAC says 20 per cent of all money-laundering and terrorist-financing cases in Canada in 2008-2009 involved casinos, where criminals and bad guys pay cash to buy chips and then cash in for a legitimate casino cheque after minimal play.

You can see just how seriously the B.C. Lottery Corporation felt about the need to prevent money laundering here -- because last year it increased the maximum weekly online gambling limit from $120 to a massive $9,999 -- just one dollar short of FINTRAC's reportable minimum $10,000.

PlayNow adds to losing streak

Then there's the PlayNow.com fiasco -- the new online gambling site B.C. Lottery Corporation aimed at making $100 million a year from that crashed shortly after it was launched.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation initially claimed it was overloaded with so many happy gamblers that the system couldn't handle it -- but five full days later the truth came out.

PlayNow.com suffered 134 "data crossovers" that meant players could see other players' personal financial data online -- and even make bets with their money.

All in all, a disastrous record for the luckless B.C. Liberals.

And let's be clear -- I'm not opposed to gambling.

I've even bet and won money placing wagers on Kinsella's own horses at Hastings Racecourse, while subsidizing government revenues through buying lottery tickets.

But I am opposed to rank hypocrisy and gross incompetence, something that is always a sure bet with this government.  [Tyee]

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