Should Rich Coleman be responsible for promoting and regulating gaming?
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."