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Ken Lum tells of father's devastating gambling addiction, as moral issues surface at casino hearings

Moral questions surrounding gambling surfaced repeatedly in today's public hearing on casino expansion. Councillors pressed casino proponents hard, eliciting some surprising answers from casino expansion proponents.

"Why have only the employees come out in favour of the expansion so far?" Councillor David Cadman asked an Edgewater employee. "Why have almost no patrons have come to speak in favour of an expanded casino at BC Place?"

Alan Stokes, an Edgewater employee, said there was a “public perception” was that gambling was seen as a bad thing by society and admitted that he did not discuss his job with his children.

“I have two children, 11 and 13, and I haven’t told them that I work in a casino,” he said. “It’s not because I’m embarrassed of my job,” he quickly added. “But the legal gambling age is 19, and I don’t think I need to tell them about it now.”

Stokes said that he was himself a gambler, and that while he had it under control, felt he could make more money from casinos as a casino employee.

As councillor Woodsworth's question about public perception of gambling led to a discussion about churches' long opposition to gambling, Mayor Gregor Robertson interrupted the conversation, saying the hearing was to be focused on rezoning.

The issue, however, surfaced repeatedly in different words throughout the hearing, coming to a head when Paul Smith, director of corporate social responsibility at BCLC began to speak. After his statement that BCLC "neither glamorizes nor condemns” gambling, councillor Heather Deal brought up an image of River Rock Casino’s racy “party pit" ad on her screen, showing an image of a scantily-clad young woman with Photoshopped clothes.

Deal asked if BCLC considered the ad “socially responsible,” prompting Smith to reply that the ads were created by the marketing department. 

Artist Ken Lum said the casino issue prompted him to speak for the first time publicly about his father's addiction to gambling.

"I've seen first hand what happens when family members become addicted to gambling," he said, noting that he had emailed all the councillors about his personal experience with gambling. Lum then spoke of his mother's beatings at the hands of his father's loansharks, and of women in the Chinese community who he said are working double shifts to work off their husband's debts.

"My life is fine now, but my father's still addicted to gambling...he still calls me up for money," he said, with some difficulty.

"It's largely hidden. It's a source of shame, especially in the Chinese community," Lum continued, echoing speakers at the Saturday hearing who argued that gambling disproportionately affects the Chinese Canadian community. 

Despite the strong showing of Edgewater casino employees in yellow T-shirts coming to speak and show their support, the hearings today seemed to be dominated by personal stories about family tragedies and secrets, followed by appeals for Council to consider the moral implication of approving a new gambling facility. 

Vancouver resident Brad Zembie talked about a young family member who had committed suicide by immolation to protest his parents' gambling addiction, while another resident talked about a friend who was killed as a result of loan-sharking activity, leaving behind a school-age child. 

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