In a deal negotiated in secrecy by BC Liberal insiders, taxpayers provide the financial muscle for a downtown development housing a mega-casino, built for a company with questionable capabilities and few credentials beyond its political connections.
The Vancouver facility is a quantum leap up from other operations of Paragon Gaming. The company is not a wealthy investor corporation bringing great resources. It attaches itself to projects built by others who provide land and money and shoulder the primary financial risks. For example, the Alexis Whitecourt Reserve built a casino, hotel and truck stop on 30-acres of band property. Its unlikely location on the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation’s reserve six kilometers west of Whitecourt makes it a large economic gamble.
Chief Cameron Alexis also worries about increased crime and problem gambling as well as operating and management challenges but he says the project is about survival because economic prospects on the Alexis reserve are “limited to nil.”
Ron Morin, the Enoch Cree chief cited similar hardships as he shepherded the planning and construction of the River Cree Casino on Edmonton’s western edge.
Like the Enoch Cree near Edmonton, the Alexis Sioux of Whitecourt joined forces with Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming for operations of their casino complexes. However, Paragon’s Las Vegas base is merely a small neighborhood sports bar with 15 slot machines. Hardly the base of a billion dollar empire, except for Paragon’s powerful political connections.
Pastor Dallas Bidell of Whitecourt’s Family Worship Centre is more concerned with the casino’s social implications than the economic ones. Bidell said:
Generally, there’s a sense of dread among my congregation This kind of thing has happened in other communities where I’ve served – Vernon and Langley – and the crime rate almost invariably goes up and you almost invariably end up with more poverty. Gambling is a very insidious addiction and it’s fueled by availability and proximity.
In Vancouver, the city council review continues and yesterday, sixteen retired police officers and a police psychologist presented an open letter to Vancouver City council. It describes the planned expansion of the Paragon’s downtown casino as an invitation to increased criminal activity and gambling addiction.