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Mayor wants to withdraw support for building casino in Victoria

Victoria should withdraw its support for a downtown casino, given recent revelations about money laundering in the B.C. gaming industry and possible gang links to fentanyl trafficking, says Mayor Lisa Helps.
The gaming floor at Elements Casino Victoria in View Royal.

Victoria should withdraw its support for a downtown casino, given recent revelations about money laundering in the B.C. gaming industry and possible gang links to fentanyl trafficking, says Mayor Lisa Helps.

In a motion going to councillors Thursday, Helps is recommending the city write to B.C. Lottery Corp. indicating it is no longer interested in hosting a casino.

Helps said Monday she was only lukewarm about the notion of a casino in Victoria in the first place. Victoria council only supported a casino if it was coupled with another facility such as a hotel. A stand-alone casino was not to be permitted.

“I was open to it and it had kind of advanced, but there is just way too much fentanyl and organized crime and money laundering and we don’t want [that] in Victoria,” Helps said.

“It’s pretty clear in my mind with all this new stuff that’s happened since council passed its original motion in 2015,” Helps said.

“There’s lots more information and it’s not very good information.”

View Royal hosts the region’s only casino. View Royal Mayor David Screech said the Elements Casino has been a good corporate citizen.

“From our perspective, the casino is an excellent corporate citizen and our RCMP and ourselves would tell you that we haven’t had any of those problems,” Screech said.

Screech said he appreciated Helps’ concerns.

“I think they are valid and we need to be vigilant but I think there are measures in place that are taking care of those issues,” he said.

Casinos can be lucrative for local governments. Host municipalities receive a percentage of casino revenue to offset additional costs such as policing.

In View Royal, that translates into more than $4 million a year which is shared amongst seven West Shore municipalities and two First Nations of which View Royal, population 10,408, pocketed about $2.3 million. Potential casino revenues for Victoria would be less, as a much smaller facility is envisioned.

Screech said while his municipality has used some of the casino revenue for operations it primarily is targeted to capital projects.

“There’s a whole lot of positive good that the revenue from the casino does for all of our communities. I think we’re really fortunate and I’m grateful that we do have it in the West Shore,” he said.

Helps says in her report to councillors the province is taking the issues of money laundering and organized crime links seriously and is taking significant action to remedy this situation. “Nonetheless prosecution of these offences is difficult. This new information that has arisen since council’s motion in 2015 has changed the landscape with regard to Victoria’s willingness to host a casino.”

Helps conceded the added revenue could be used for needs such as affordable housing but asked “at what cost?”

“So maybe we won’t have direct money into the city’s coffers from gambling to pay for affordable housing but I think the greater cost of having organized crime and money laundering and fentanyl trafficking in our city, potentially, is not worth it to me,” she said.

An independent review conducted by Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, concluded that for many years certain Lower Mainland casinos unwittingly served as “laundromats” for proceeds of organized crime and that laundered money was linked to drug trafficking and real estate transactions in the Lower Mainland’s heated housing market.

Prior to the October municipal election, councillors in September endorsed a resolution calling for an update of the province’s investigations into money laundering in Lower Mainland casinos “to seek assurances that issues of organized crime and money laundering will not occur in any potential new casinos in the City of Victoria.”

Helps’ recommendation to councillors comes as B.C. Lottery Corp. seeks re-affirmation from the city for its willingness to host a casino as it is about to ask its four pre-qualified gaming service providers to provide casino proposals for Victoria.

Victoria was selected by the corporation in 2016.

B.C. Lottery Corp. announced in late 2015 that it was considering a second casino closer to downtown Victoria than the existing View Royal casino.

It asked six communities — Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich, Oak Bay, and the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations — if they were interested.

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