A battle long brewing comes to a head tonight at City Hall

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"The city responded with this hurry up plan and out of it came recommendations that went to council at the end of 2008 - approval in a general way how all of these places would be developed." Paragon received the right to build a casino at that time, and the city waived public levies usually required of developers, levies which direct up to 20% of the overall cost of the project to be dedicated to city park services. But in this case, councillors decided that the resurrection of the roof at B.C. Place, which was also part of the deal, sufficed in place of the levy, as a service to the city.

Councillor Anton's opinion

"To me it was a very worthwhile trade off for the city, to allow the amenity to be the roof," Councillor Suzanne Anton said in a Vancouver Observerarticle last November.

"I will just tell you, politicians who pretend that they’re angry with that decision, would have made exactly the same decision themselves if they had been in the majority. It was just more fun to say, 'Oh this is terrible, this is terrible.' I don’t think any politicians would want to be the one who presided over the demolition of that stadium," she said.

The stadium was in sore need of repair, the councillor pointed out. The best place for a stadium is right in the middle of a city, she said. "It was a very expensive project. So how do you make it work?"

Concerns about money laundering and an increase in crime 

Before it was disbanded two years ago, the RCMP's Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) gave a number of warnings about the presence of organized crime at casinos in the province. As Vancouver prepares to hold public hearings on the issue, the now-defunct unit's warnings are spurring questions about a potential rise in criminal activity and the ability of police to cope.

In a 2009 report obtained by The Vancouver Sun through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the IIGET warned of casinos' "extreme vulnerability" to money laundering. It states that many investigations across Canada have found that members of organized crime use casinos for criminal purposes. A separate internal assessment, obtained by the Globe and Mail through a FOI, said that Hells Angels members had, in some cases, succeeded in infiltrating the province’s “legitimate gaming operations."

In an interview with Public Eye several months later, IIGET's former commander Fred Pinnock said his team should have been watching what was happening in legal gaming facilities, instead of focusing their energies on illegal operations. "For the police not to have well-resourced law enforcement units dedicated to casino environments is very short-sighted in my opinion," he said.

Pinnock's former colleague Sgt. Randy Mortensen, who now works with the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Unit, said that a mega-casino at BC Place might lead to a rise in organized crime.

"Studies have shown that organized crime will try to infiltrate casinos in many different ways, whenever they’re expanding," Morstensen said.

In the shadowy underworld of organized crime, casinos are an ideal place to turn dirty money into legitimate cash, according to a spokesperson from FINTRAC, the federal agency that monitors cases of suspected money laundering and terrorist financing. Casinos have been identified around the world as vulnerable to money laundering and those in BC are no exception, Peter Lamey said.

"Casinos may appeal to people because they can perform transactions with a great deal of anonymity," he said.

A common scenario involves a drug trafficker with large amounts of cash to convert, said Stephen Schneider, professor of criminology at St. Mary's University and author of Iced: A History of Organized Crime in Canada. "They’ll go to a casino, play a few games, come back, cash their chips and get a cheque."

Any increase in population will increase crime rates, Sgt. Dave Gray, of the B.C. RCMP’s Integrated Proceeds of Crime unit, said in regard to a potential increase in money laundering due to the expansion and relocation of Edgewater Casino to BC Place.

"The casino has the responsibility to do what they can, but I’m not sure that they have to go beyond that. They’re running a legal business. The cost of extra policing would most likely fall on the taxpayer," Gray said.

A 2006 joint Canada-US Organized Crime Threat Assessment report stated, "the fact that currency in casinos is largely exchanged in the form of chips and stored value cards renders the traceability of funds difficult." The report also stated that casinos in both Canada and the U.S. wire funds across the border.

In the last ten years FINTRAC has referred 2000 cases to police on reasonable grounds for an investigation into money laundering. 20% of those involved some kind of casino transaction, Lamey said. 95% were related to financial institution transactions and 35% involved money service businesses (e.g. Western Union). Casinos were the third most common place for money laundering.

Jenny Uechi and Emily Barca contributed reporting for the story.


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