Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall delivered grim news last month about how gambling is ruining peoples’ lives in British Columbia.
Between 2002 and 2007, the number of people in B.C. with the most severe form of problem gambling more than doubled, increasing from about 13,000 people to more than 31,000.
Quite a staggering statistic.
The findings have prompted Vision Coun. Kerry Jang to draft a motion asking city staff to examine Kendall’s report on “how the city could work with the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health [Dr. Patricia Daly] to review the risk-mitigating activities underway in existing gambling facilities in Vancouver.”
This is interesting on many levels.
Let’s first begin with how Vision Vancouver-dominated councils allowed slot machines at Edgewater casino and Hastings Racecourse.
Way back in January 2004, city council approved slot machines for Edgewater, making it the first gambling facility in the city to have the machines. Then-Vision mayor Larry Campbell and Vision councillors Jim Green, Raymond Louie, Tim Stevenson and COPE’s David Cadman voted for slots.
The rationale was that other municipalities already had casinos with slots, so let’s bring them to Vancouver.
Six months later, in July 2004, Campbell, Louie, Stevenson and Green voted for slots at Hastings Racecourse, which is operated by Great Canadian Casino. The NPA’s Sam Sullivan and Peter Ladner also voted for the slots.
The rationale was that approving slots would ensure the racecourse would remain in business and its hundreds of employees would keep their jobs.
Jang was not elected until November 2008, long after the votes on slots.
But his Vision party has a history of accepting donations from Edgewater ($2,500 in 2008, $3,080 in 2005) and Great Canadian Casino ($10,500 in 2008, $30,750 in 2005). Financial documents for the 2011 campaign show Great Canadian donated another $2,500 to Vision; whether casino companies donated more money in fundraisers post-2011 election is not something the party is legally obligated to disclose.
As faithful readers will recall, Vision’s first announcement in the 2011 campaign was that it was taking a hard line on gambling. The announcement wasn’t really news because in April 2011 the ruling Vision party quashed Paragon Gaming’s application to expand its Edgewater Casino to a site adjacent to B.C. Place Stadium.
Had Paragon been given the green light, the new facility would have been the largest casino in Western Canada, with 150 gambling tables and 1,500 slots. Paragon, however, still wants to move to the new site with its existing complement of tables and slots and needs council’s approval.
I asked Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs during the 2011 campaign how can Vision, on the one hand, take a hard line on gambling and then, in the other hand, accept donations from the very corporations problem gamblers are attracted to?
“Vision’s proposition for a long time has been there should be a rule for all parties not to take money from developers or unions and just make it individuals,” said Meggs, who was elected in 2008. “In the absence of that, we’ve been accepting money from unions and from corporations and we will continue to do so.”
Allowing the slots has also been good for city coffers.
The last time I checked, which was in January 2011, the city had collected $60 million over 11 years.
When I asked the city’s communications department to provide a breakdown on what the $60 million was spent on, I was told it helps offset the costs of city’s operating budget, including departments such as police, fire services and parks.
It would be interesting to know how much, if any, of the millions is spent on addressing problem gambling. Maybe that’s a number city staff will release once it follows up on Jang’s motion that goes before council Nov. 5.
Note: As I’ve reported previously, former mayor and Vision co-founder Larry Campbell is on the board of directors at Great Canadian Casino. He has been since June 2008.
“If people actually think that I had a plan down the road [to join Great Canadian’s board], I mean c’mon, that doesn’t make any sense at all,” Campbell told me in October 2008, long after he left city hall.
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