More to learn – and more to change – about money laundering in B.C. casinos

A few days before British Columbia Attorney General David Eby made public an independent report into money laundering in the province’s casinos, 76% of residents polled by Research Co.expressed support for a public inquiry into this matter. The survey was conducted after months of discussions about who knew what and when, as well as the performance of the previous and current provincial governments.

After the report finally became public, complete with surprisingly lengthy videos where bags of cash were dragged into Metro Vancouver casinos to be converted into playing chips, more residents became aware of the situation. The outcry led to severe criticism of existing procedures and brought an abrupt end to the municipal political aspirations of the former interim leader of the BC Liberals.

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Even before the report was released, a few simple rules were implemented. Would-be gamblers now need to declare the source of any cash deposits over $10,000 at casinos, and “high limit” table gambling is now forbidden. But are these actions enough to generate confidence in the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and its ability to oversee casinos? The answer, at this point, is no.

Earlier this month, Research Co. asked British Columbians about this issue again and the result was exactly the same as in June: 76% of residents believe the provincial government should “definitely” or “probably” call a public inquiry into money laundering in casinos.

The proportion of British Columbians who call for an inquiry did not change over the past two months, partly because it was already exceedingly high. Supporters of all three provincial parties, in the surveys conducted in June and August, say they would like to see this happen.

Money laundering is not the typical issue in which supporters of the party in opposition will naturally oppose whatever the party in power is doing. Our province has seen many examples of this dichotomy, most notably the rejection of BC NDP voters to the first implementation of the carbon tax during the government of Premier Gordon Campbell. When it comes to money laundering and casinos, sizeable proportions of voters for all three major parties believe there is more to learn and more to correct.

In addition, almost half of British Columbians (48%) believe the BCLC deserves “all of the blame” or “most of the blame” for the current situation related to money laundering in casinos. This is a higher proportion of blame than what residents place at the hands of the previous BC Liberal government (39%), the current BC New Democratic Party (NDP) government (23%) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) (21%).

In a separate question, practically four-in-five residents (78%) voiced support for establishing an office of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, similar to the one that has been in place in Quebec since 2011.

In essence, British Columbians are deeply distraught by this issue and many would like to see something done about it. There is a high level of support for both a public inquiry and the establishment of a Quebec-style office that would bring clarity to tendering and eradicate corruption in the public sector.

Still, it is clear that residents are not in the mood for political revenge. British Columbians are currently far more critical of the BCLC than the politicians who oversaw its operations. A public inquiry, if it happens, would not serve as an opportunity for bloodlust and finger-pointing. It would provide a crown corporation with the chance to figure out what went wrong and why, and ultimately establish clear guidelines to keep organized crime outside of gaming.  

A public inquiry is expensive and lengthy, but it may be just what is needed to generate a sense of confidence in a crown corporation that has been greatly tarnished. The mistakes of the past gave a new, powerful and reprehensible meaning to the phrase “Vancouver model.” The province’s residents deserve a detailed account of what happened and what needs to change.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co., a public opinion research firm, and is a contributing columnist for Glacier Media.

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