Should Rich Coleman be responsible for promoting and regulating gaming?

Solicitor General Rich Coleman (left)

Solicitor General Rich Coleman, the minister in charge of managing gaming in B.C., is also in charge of investigating gaming-related crimes. Some see  Coleman's double appointments as a conflict of interest. 

While reporting on the Edgewater casino expansion at B.C. Place, VO has made six requests for an interview with Minister Coleman. He has refused on each occasion.

Tasha Schollen, a spokesperson from his office, told VO in an e-mail that, "The Province believes it is entirely appropriate to have one minister responsible for promoting a shared vision for responsible and fair gaming in British Columbia."

The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB) and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) have "independent areas of operation and responsibility,"  she wrote. "GPEB is a regulator, with a core mandate to ensure the integrity of gaming in B.C. BCLC is a Crown corporation, with its own corporate structure, responsible for conducting, managing and operating lottery, casino, community gaming and e-gaming in B.C. It delivers revenue to the Province."

Coleman has been responsible for gaming since 2008, and also handled the portfolio from June 2001 and May 2005, Schollen wrote.

NDP MLA Shane Simpson believes that different ministers should be responsible for BCLC and GPEB.

"I think it’s extremely difficult for you to be out promoting, expanding and trying to create as much revenue as possible, while also ensuring regulation and oversight of the industry," Simpson said.

"Those are very valid points," said Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, in response to Simpson's comments. "There does seem to be a contradiction," she said. Woodsworth and fellow councillors will soon hold public hearings on the expansion and relocation of Edgewater casino to B.C. Place.

In July, Simpson wrote a letter to then-premier Gordon Campbell asking him to hand GBEP over to another minister. At the time, Coleman was minister of Housing and Social Development and also in charge of BCLC and GPEB.  This was a conflict, some said, as the City was working with Coleman to secure more provincial funds for social housing in Vancouver while, on the other hand, dealing with the issues surrounding the provincial-backed casino expansion, also in Coleman's portfolio.

"I think it’s possible that if we don’t work with Minister Rich Coleman on this project then he won’t work with us on housing at the Olympic Village," Woodsworth told VO in October.

With Coleman's new appointment as Solicitor General, Simpson believes that BCLC should become a responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts.

As this 2010 publication by the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling indicates, the distribution of governmental responsibilities for the management and regulation of gaming varies throughout  provinces and  by type of gaming. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission manages and regulates casinos and, as in BC, the AGLC reports to Alberta's Solicitor General.

In Ontario, however, casinos are regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, which reports to the Ministry of Government Services. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), responsible for managing casinos, reports to the Ministry of Finance. Bingo, on the other hand, is regulated and managed by the OLG.

B.C. political blogger  Paul Willcocks has said he is certain that Coleman's two responsibilities are in conflict. He points to Coleman's denial that money laundering is a major problem at B.C. casinos as proof. In a July editorial in The Prince George Citizen, he wrote that this "conflict needs to be ended immediately."  This was in the aftermath of news that BCLC had been fined $670,000 by FINTRAC, the federal agency that investigates money laundering and terrorism financing. Both Coleman and Graydon, BCLC's CEO, denied that a real problem existed.

"That’s because they are in a conflict," wrote Willcocks. "Both are charged with increasing the number of gamblers in the province, the amount each one loses and the total take. Making the effort to track transactions that could be linked to money laundering is a threat to those goals."

"The appearance [of a conflict of interest] is problematic," SFU political science instructor Kevin Ginnell told VO in an email. "One would hope that Minister Coleman has taken steps to insulate himself from any real conflict."

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Who believes?

The comment that "The Province believes" is really very silly-the Province is a geographical land mass and as such can not believe anything. I think the more relevant information is which people specifically within the body of the government believes that this combination of responsibilities is appropriate and what facts support that belief? It is a never ending source of amusement that the people who work in government elected roles think it is appropriate to make nonsensical and essentially evasive statements with the deluded belief that thinking voters will accept such comments with any degree of credibility.

Coleman conflict

To see one concrete example of how this conflict has direct consequences, check out the Vancouver Not Vegas blog:

 Comment on Vancouver’s Oak Street Shooting: gangs and money-laundering « Vancouver, not Vegas!

Coleman knows there is uncontrolled money laundering going on in BC casinos, and he actually disbanded the police specialty team that wanted to do something about it.

What's up with that?

Is this a conflict? Yes.

This is a conflict by any stretch of the imagination. Having cut the integrated police force right when the government is pushing the most masssive casino this province has ever seen, and what's more for a site right next to the infamous downtown eastside? Casinos are well known as key centres for the money laundering that organized crime so badly needs, as well as for loan sharking, violence and many other activities. This government is a runaway train.

PS why does Rich Coleman get to take the gaming portfolio with him no matter which ministry he moves to? It's fishy - I can't think of another example of this in Canada.