Prior to last May’s provincial election, Premier Glen Clark was adamant: there would be no Las Vegas-style gambling in British Columbia. But with Clark’s NDP government suddenly on the hook for a projected deficit of $1 billion in its $32-billion budget for 1996-1997—something else that, before the election, Clark said would not happen—there are now signs that British Columbia may be ready to jump on the casino bandwagon. Last month, deputy premier Dan Miller revealed that the NDP was “rethinking” its position. “This government views expanded gaming as an opportunity to build the economy and provide revenue to protect health care and education,” declared Miller.
True, Miller has not yet shown his hand. Instead, he has stressed that Victoria is simply studying the pros and cons of casino expansion. “I don’t say it’s a broken promise,” he maintained. “A government should always look at their options—and that’s what we’re doing.” But critics are convinced that the NDP is keeping plans for a major casino— most likely in the Vancouver area—up its sleeve. “Mr. Miller is going to try to push things down British Columbians’ throats,” said Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell. “This is a short-term cash grab by a financially desperate government.”
It is by no means the first time the thorny issue of gambling expansion has ensnared the government. Currently, the province allows only a small number of so-called charity casinos, which are obliged to give half their take to licensed sponsors and 10 per cent to the government. Two years ago, after resounding public outcry, then-premier Mike Harcourt backed off plans to open a glitzy $ 1 -bi 11 ion casino on Vancouver’s waterfront. Later, Harcourt also pulled the plug on a proposal to bring some 5,000 video-lottery terminals to British Columbia.
Still, critics maintain the government has been expanding gaming quietly. Off-track betting was approved in 1994 and Club Keno, a rapid-action lottery game, was introduced in some bars last fall. That action has pitted Vancouver city council, which vehemently opposes any expansion of gaming, against the B.C. Lottery Corp., and the matter is currently before the courts. “The government is just looking at dollars,” says Vancouver lawyer Connie Fogal, who heads a group called Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. “What they
are not facing are the social costs.”
Fogal, whose group is planning to stage an anti-gambling rally in Vancouver on Jan. 17, cites a University of Illinois finding that for every dollar of revenue generated through gaming, governments spend anywhere from $2 to $5 on additional costs for such things as social services and law enforcement. If a B.C. casino is opened, Fogal warns, “eventually, there is going to be a lot of personal human tragedy.” Others, such as Randall St. Godard, spokesman for a lobby group representing charity casinos, worries that his members may be “cut out of the loop.” In the search for new revenues, however, a government-run casino is a gamble the NDP may finally be prepared to take.
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