Summary of issues surrounding the Edgwater Casino expansion planPosted: February 16, 2011
This post is for those interested in some of the more technical details surrounding the Edgewater Casino application. To read the full application, visit the City of Vancouver site.
1. No Adequate Notice to Public
The application before Council is described as a re-zoning application by PavCo (crown corporation BC Pavilion Co). Included, but not detailed in the public notice, is a second application by Edgewater Casino for a by-law amendment licensing approximately 1000 new slot machines and 75 new slot machines; Notices mailed only to residents within a 2 block radius of the project, etc.
No notice to public of scale of expansion: gaming floor equivalent to two NFL football fields (114k sq. ft)
2. Due Diligence gaps
a) Calculation of expected revenues only, no calculation of expected costs–policing, counseling, housing homeless;
b) No report on mental health and addiction issues/social ills;
c) Policing report is one paragraph long. Only one sentence respecting organized crime, money laundering. No estimate of impact or cost to manage. No weapons policy or enforcement provisions in a casino/hotel/sports complex. No reference to the RCMP report cautioning about extreme vulnerability to organized crime and infiltration.
d) Background check of Paragon Gaming–corporate profile misrepresented in public materials. No assessment of suitability to operate a major project of this scale.
3. Key Information Relevant to Public Review
PavCo represents that there is no risk to the taxpayer in the corporate structure of the project; however:
The BC Lottery Corporation Facility Development Commissions (FDC) and Accelerated Facility Development Commissions (AFDC) cover roughly 42% of casino capital development expenses.
Do FDC’s and AFDC’s extend to ancillary buildings such as hotels, restaurants, theatres, and parkades?
Projections indicate the cost of the complex will be approximately $450 million. 42% is almost $190 million in public money. The BC Lottery Corporation has budgeted for capital expenditures of $346 million over the next 3 fiscal years. What percentage of that will go into the Edgewater development?
a) Public disclosure of all financial commitments
b) Public disclosure of the deal structure: Is there an incentive to overbuild? How are expenses calculated and netted out?
4. Irregularities in the BC Lottery Corporation and PavCo Bid Process
a) BC Lottery Corporation board chair Richard Turner purchases shares in Paragon Gaming (operating in Alberta) in 2003. Share purchase violates board code of conduct, and is not disclosed until 2005.
b) In late 2005 Turner resigns from BCLC board. Summer 2006 Paragon Gaming purchases Edgewater Casino out of bankruptcy and installs Turner on the board of Paragon.
c) Fall 2008, City plan for Northeast False Creek is amended to permit major casino at request of PavCo.
d) March 2009, PavCo puts out an RFEI (Expressions of Interest), with an 18 day window. Only two respondents, including Paragon, reply. While the Paragon bid is before PavCo during the RFP phase one month later, Turner issues a $50k cheque to the BC Liberal Party. Paragon Gaming is the successful bidder
e) Autumn 2009 Turner places a phone call to Minister Kevin Krueger advising that Paragon will withdraw if the roof is not built per plans.
What were all the communications between Richard Turner and PavCo in the period 2005-2009?
5. Criminal Concerns
2006: Richmond loan shark Lily Li is murdered. Evidence emerges at trial that loan sharks operate on shifts 24/7 inside River Rock Casino;
2009, January: RCMP special unit IIGET (Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team) issues a report to government warning of “extreme vulnerability” of casino industry to organized crime–money laundering, infiltration, loan sharking. No resources to investigate suspected money laundering. Concerns expressed about perception of conflict of interest and corruption. Most information redacted from report.
2009. February: IIGET disbanded
2010/ Summer: BC Lottery Corporation fined by FINTRAC for repeated failure to monitor suspicious transactions. First fine of its kind in Canada.
2010/August-October: CBC investigates over $8 million in suspicious transactions at 2 casinos in Metro Vancouver, including $460k in 20’s in plastic bags, and a suitcase with $1.2 million in casino chips.
Insp. Baxter, head of Proceeds of Crime Unit, calls transactions suspicious. Solicitor General Rich Coleman, also responsible for gaming, disagrees that transactions are suspicious and publicly disagrees with Baxter.
Conclusion: Weak BCLC enforcement of rules of conduct and poor compliance and oversight of casinos, leaving the industry vulnerable to uncontrolled criminal conduct and potentially to infiltration.
6. Paragon Gaming: Parent Co of Edgewater
All other projects and operations are on First Nations reserves in the US and Canada. All are small market. No international tourism expertise. No expertise with the Asian market.
BC’s model: Closed door bidding process with a single (geographically pre-selected) casino applicant, and no public input.
By contrast, Missouri recently awarded a casino license in an open, public, competitive bidding process, with multiple applicants and more than one physical location. The successful bidder demonstrated both strong community support via a referendum, and strong local roots in the community. Paragon Gaming was one of the bidders in this process, but was unable to garner a single vote of support from the Missouri Gaming Commission.
US small market casino operations have notoriety, particularly vis-à-vis political corruption. In more than one instance, individuals with some connection to Paragon Gaming or their advisors have been implicated, charged, or convicted on political corruption charges. A detailed background check on Paragon Gaming is recommended, including investigation of the relationship of Paragon principles with Milton McGregor and Robert Sigler (shareholder in Paragon Gaming Missouri) of Alabama.