NDP dealing up the status quo After almost a year and a half of high stakes wagers and a number of called bluffs, Government Services Minister Ujjal Dosanjh announced late last month the NDP government is adopting a "moderate" stance toward gambling in B.C. This "Made in B.C." policy has Dosanjh directing the B.C. Gaming commission to follow along the path set in motion when Premier Mike Harcourt announced in October, 1994 that there would be no Vegas style casinos in the province, in the wake of VLC's proposal to develop a casino on Vancouver's waterfront — in other words, nothing has changed. Following Harcourt's announcement last fall there was a series of volatile debates that divided British Columbians along the lines of those who don't support gambling and those who do, with the government sitting in the middle dealing out the cards and the announcements. Whistler led a municipal revolt against the implementation of video lottery terminals. "The larger decision was whether or not to change the direction British Columbia is going regarding gaming as a whole," says Dosanjh. "The answer is no." No Vegas-style casinos, no video lottery terminals, no change, no use for the fractious 18-month debate that stirred B.C.'s anti-gambling forces and rallied the supporters of gambling expansion. No reason to have spent tax dollars to make the big decision to not change a thing. Dosanjh says the gambling issue has been set firmly under the auspices of the Gaming Commission, which will work on what he calls a number of "new initiatives," most of which are aimed at increasing the possibilities of generating gambling revenues for B.C.'s First Nations communities. "We have got to make some forward progress on the unclear issue of First Nations Gaming in B.C.," Dosanjh says. "I have given the Gaming Commission clear directions on this issue and they will be taking application from First Nations interested in gaming on reserve." Mount Currie, with the endorsement of Chief Alan Stager and council and a general vote of the band, has been pursuing the idea of setting up some type of casino on the reserve. That process is still underway and the band is still working with California-based aboriginal gaming consultant John Morrison. In a letter to Richard Macintosh, chair of the B.C. Gaming Commission, Dosanjh deals the hand the government is going to be playing when it comes to developing aboriginal gaming in the province. Guidelines include: o the submission of a satisfactory business plan outlining the potential and marketability of a given location, as well as the impact on existing gaming operations. o the results of consultation in the community in which the facility is to be located. o evidence of consultation with adjacent communities, including evidence that the business plan has been provided to adjacent municipalities for comment. o evidence of satisfactory infrastructure for the proposed facility. o appropriate background checks and vetting on bingo and casino management companies. Dosanjh says he is looking at putting together some type of "revenue pool" to deal with funds that come from aboriginal gaming in the province. The funds from this pool would be redistributed to all First Nations in the province — whether they are operating casinos or not. He also adds the Gaming Commission members have a tough job ahead of them as they have to deal with increasing pressure from casinos in Washington State and Alberta as they lure B.C. gamblers and B.C. dollars out of the province. "A lot of the direction will have to deal with ways of protecting the stream of revenue the government already receives from gaming in this province," he says. In 1993-94 British Columbians wagered $1.5 billion in B.C. casinos, bingo halls, race tracks, lotteries, pull-tabs and raffles. From each of the 1,541,800,000 dollars wagered 59 cents was used to pay prizes and winnings, 17 cents was taken off the top by governments, 16 cents went to operators of casinos, race tracks, bingo halls and lotteries, and 8 cents went to non profit and charity groups. "I don't believe the government should be in the business of micro organizing gaming in the province, the people have had their say and we have acted on those wishes," Dosanjh says. "That is by and large the issue."