Vancouver got played: BCLC CEO Michael Graydon defects to Paragon Gaming

CEO of casino regulator switches teams, as Paragon collects another former BCLC bigwig. Critics of casino expansion may now safely say "I told you so."

Michael Graydon: Detail from BCLC video

I hate to say ‘I told you so’, but...

Michael Graydon, CEO of the British Columbia Lottery Commission (BCLC), is jumping ship to sign on with the very company he was tasked with regulating: Paragon Gaming, who is behind the Edgewater Casino expansion. Of course, Graydon takes his former team’s playbook with him.

A man’s gotta eat: BCLC is merely funded by the Province, while Paragon is fed by virtually-limitless supplies of cash from the gambling industry.

In responding to news of Graydon’s new gig, Vancouver Not Vegas co-founder Ian Pitfield said, “It’s a grave concern that the BCLC, which oversees an industry requiring the highest standard of integrity and transparency, would permit a departure of this kind from expected ethical standards.”

Critics of Paragon’s preliminary permit application spoke out again and again at a public hearing, warning City Hall that Paragon had something up its sleeve. Nobody would build so much empty floorspace into a casino, unless they were planning to add more gaming machines or tables, and unless they had some degree of assurance that they would be allowed to do so.

Yet some part of the word "casino" was unclear to the Development Permit Board, which took Paragon at its word that no new gaming machines or tables would be added to the BC Place project.

Vancouver Not Vegas spokesperson Sandy Garossino says, “That is the real question. When you look at the plan put forward by Paragon in their development permit application, it’s very clear that there’s some smoke-and-mirrors going on. Nobody builds that much extra space unless they already have some assurances in place.” (Paragon's director of strategic communications, Tamara Hicks, said last year that the extra space was built in because the old Edgewater casino tables were too crammed). 

Neither Graydon nor the the BCLC can throw their hands up and say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Graydon would appear to be in violation of the BCLC’s own guidelines, unless he disclosed his upcoming defection to the board of directors. If that is indeed the case, then the BCLC board of directors has failed the public by not preventing the move.

For its part, City Hall has misunderstood its role in this production, presuming the power to rein in a company that preys on naiveté for a living; one that has reached over the City's head to forge intimate relationships with the BCLC's top regulators.

Paragon is not new to the game, and is used to operating in a regulation environment much more sophisticated than that of British Columbia. The casino industry thrives on such naiveté: in this case, the mistaken trust in Paragon’s claim that it wanted all that empty casino floorspace for something other than gaming (a ball pit, perhaps?), and the ill-advised belief that the BCLC was actually showing up for work. Recent events suggest both presumptions are incorrect.

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