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LETTER: Time to shut down B.C. Lottery schmoozefest

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Image Credit: SUBMITTED
March 14, 2017 - 12:15 PM

 


OPINION


The B.C. Lottery Corporation’s big schmooze-and-booze conference should have taxpayers, who pick up the tab, singing the blues.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through a Freedom of Information request found that BCLC lost $208,642 on its 2016 New Horizons in Responsible Gaming conference. The conference attracted only 85 paid registrants, meaning each of those attendees was subsidized by nearly $2,500 apiece.

Most taxpayers can’t even imagine having $2,500 per head to party with. For BCLC, it was just another edition of their annual conference. They blew $55,282 on food and drinks, including a “sushi demo,” “top sirloins carving station,” “moja organic coffee,” “porcini and chive quiche,” copious amounts of craft beer and wine, and much more.

BCLC spent $40,922 to rent the Vancouver Convention Centre (despite there being conference facilities at several nearby casinos), and another $79,314 for tech equipment. They shelled out $63,750 for an event management firm.

More than $23,000 went out the door for speaker airfares, including pricy, return trips from London ($2,687.24), New York ($2,242.55), Las Vegas ($923.12) and Manchester ($2,678.33). Another $662 was spent buying carbon credits to cover those flights’ greenhouse gas emissions.

And BCLC spent $6,500 to develop a conference-specific phone app – again, for just 85 registrants. To try and get them to download it, BCLC handed out $275 in VISA gift cards as an incentive.

It has all the trappings of a money-spending binge by a bunch of high-rollers. The problem is, they were spending taxpayer money – not their own. How can a conference about social responsibility be so, well, irresponsible?

“We’re not selling products, it’s a development and learning opportunity,” a BCLC spokesperson said in defense of the spending. As if that makes a lick of difference.

The conference has been a money loser since the start. The first edition, in 2014, lost $57,000. The 2015 conference lost $138,000. The 2016 gabfest, as detailed above, lost $208,642. And the BCLC spokesperson claims the 2017 version lost $140,000 – a fact that still needs to be verified through Freedom of Information.

All told, that’s $543,642 in losses on the conference in just four years. Why is the BCLC in this business?

It’s an obscene amount of money, especially when charities who work up close and personal with gambling addicts in BC are crying out for resources. Studies show an estimated 125,000 problem gamblers in the province, or 3.3 per cent of the population.

“For the person who needs to pay for private treatment – because there is no treatment paid for gambling – can you imagine how many people could get into treatment for that [$543,642]?” addictions expert Dr. Jennifer Melamed told Global BC.

The BCLC offered one other explanation for keeping the conference going, saying the conference is paid for out of the lottery corporation’s generous $9.5 million annual budget to support responsible gaming.

But that’s less than a third of what the corporation spends on advertising every year, showing where their priorities lie.

“Know your limit, play within it,” has been BCLC’s responsible gaming slogan for years. Time for its executives to take their own advice and step away from the conference table. And if they won’t, then it’s up to Premier Christy Clark or Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Peter Fassbender to intervene and make BCLC walk away.

— Jordan Bateman is the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He can be reached at jbateman@taxpayer.com.


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