Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Mar  7, 2011)

A matter of choices

By Bob Cooper




Last week I received an e-mail from an old friend, Sandy Garossino, who prosecuted some major gang cases for us back in the 1980s.  As well as an excellent prosecutor she was a lot of fun and was always up for a party after the verdict came in.  I mention that to let readers know that she is no prude or anti-gambling zealot because Sandy is now with a group called Vancouver not Vegas, a non-partisan coalition opposed to the development of the new Edgewater Casino by Paragon Gambling and expanded gambling in Vancouver in general.  Sandy had persuaded my old partner, Peter Ditchfield, to lend his name to the cause and asked if I would do the same.  I told Sandy Iíd get back to her because I didnít know much about it and, at first glance, I was of two minds.

Iíve seen the worst side of gambling and its effects on individuals and society in general including murders, suicides, extortions and a lot more.  In one of those cases that you never forget, a man lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over 24 hours in a Burnaby casino.  He went home, murdered his wife and spread gasoline around his East Vancouver house then struck a match blowing the house off its foundations and killing himself in the process.  Miraculously, other family members including his two young children survived only because his skill at arson was no better than his skill at gambling.  Once youíve walked into a scene like that you tend to view those BC Lottery ads showing smiling people having a wonderful time at the Blackjack tables just a little bit differently than most people.

On the other hand Iíve always believed that people should have the right to make their own choices.   I love Las Vegas and go there every chance I get.  Matter of fact, Iíd just flown back from Las Vegas when I got Sandyís e-mail.   One of the things I love most about it is the absence of political correctness.  People drinking at 8 oíclock in the morning and smoking cigarettes indoors.

Coming from this nanny-state I love the freedom that Las Vegas represents.   Apart from the atmosphere, I just go to play golf.  I donít gamble so I donít even have a dog in this race.  Like drinking and a lot of other things, gambling is a choice.  Most handle it responsibly but there are always those who canít.

What troubles me is how the present system is run here in BC.  Casinos should be in the vanguard when it comes taking a proactive, vigilant approach to the prevention of money laundering and barring gangsters and loan sharks from the premises.  Friends who have worked in the gaming industry since leaving the job assure me that the casinos are motivated solely by profit and do only what they are absolutely forced to in this regard and no oneís forcing them to do much of anything.  In January, 2009, the RCMPís Integrated Gaming Enforcement Team issued a report warning of Ďextreme vulnerabilityí of the gaming industry to organized crime infiltration, money-laundering, and loan sharking.   A month later the team was ordered disbanded by Solicitor-General Rich Coleman (who is also responsible for gaming), demonstrating that you really donít want to get between the provincial government and the gambling revenue on which theyíve become so dependent.  In addition, last year the BC Lotteries Corporation was fined $670,000.00 by FINTRAC for failing to monitor suspicious transactions.

Then I did some reading about the deal itself and discovered that in 2003, BC Lotteries chairman Richard Turner bought shares in Paragon Gaming which he didnít disclose until 2005.  He left the BC Lotteries Board later the same year and was appointed to the board of Paragon Gaming in 2006.  That same year Paragon Gaming bought the bankrupt Edgewater Casino which was then located on the old Expo site.  Three years later, while Paragonís present bid to develop the new Edgewater Casino was awaiting approval by the BC Pavilion Corporation, Richard Turner donated $50,000.00 to the BC Liberal Party.  And no one saw anything wrong with any of this.

Sound familiar?  Theyíve probably already fitted up a couple of ministerial assistants to take the fall.

Like I said, Iím all for choice and believe people should be able to gamble if they want but this deal stinks.   Approving it would reward the ethics involved and reinforce the status quo, neither of which are acceptable.  Sandy, go ahead and put me down on your supporters side.

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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