Three former senior NDP government bureaucrats developed a sophisticated campaign in 2003 to convince Vancouver city council to lift a moratorium on slot machines.
On January 21, the Coalition of Progressive Electors–controlled council voted 5-4 in favour of a rezoning application to allow 600 slot machines at a new casino at the Plaza of Nations.
During the 1990s, the three former NDP bureaucrats—John Horgan, Ian Reid, and John Heaney—worked in the B.C. Ministry of Management Services, which oversaw the expansion of gambling across the province.
The trio later formed a consulting company called IdeaWorks, along with former deputy minister Nancy Thompson and former NDP caucus research director Mary O'Donoghue.
Horgan told the Georgia Straight that the Plaza of Nations casino proponents—Gary Jackson of Royal Diamond Leisure Group and Len Libin of Grand Casino—retained IdeaWorks last year to conduct a public-opinion survey and to develop a strategic plan.
Jackson has applied to combine his present casino at the Plaza of Nations in a temporary facility with the Grand Casino, which would move from South Vancouver.
After four years, they would move to new premises along with Planet Bingo, which is operated by 88 community groups on behalf of British Columbia Lottery Corp.
Jackson also retained lawyer and former NDP cabinet minister Ian Waddell. Their campaign included a retired Vancouver police sergeant, a prominent Simon Fraser University criminologist, major labour leaders, and the heads of several charities.
"Our objective here was to bring those diverse groups together to see the benefit of allowing slot machines in Vancouver...city projects through increased revenue, a future for charitable organizations through a new facility, and jobs for trade unionists," Horgan said. "Once the fabric all came together, the cloth looked pretty impressive for a majority of council, and that's why we were successful."
A city-sponsored December 2003 Ipsos-Reid poll of 700 adult residents showed that 60 percent opposed the Plaza of Nations casino proposal.
Despite this, COPE Mayor Larry Campbell and COPE councillors David Cadman, Jim Green, Raymond Louie, and Tim Stevenson voted in favour of slot machines at the Plaza of Nations casino.
Before the 2002 election, the five COPE politicians stated their opposition to the introduction of slot machines in a survey for the West Ender newspaper. Grand Casino and Jackson each contributed $2,000 to COPE's coffers.
The slot-machine lobbyists also retained recently retired Vancouver police sergeant Don Smith, who offered assurances to council about the slot-machine proposal.
In addition, criminologist Neil Boyd wrote a letter to city council on Simon Fraser University letterhead claiming that pathological gambling was a "relatively trivial public health concern".
Jackson refused to reveal to the Straight if Smith and Boyd were paid for their services. Smith and Boyd did not return messages.
The casino proponents overcame two other obstacles: organized labour and the 88 charities that benefit from the Planet Bingo facility at 2655 Main Street.
In 2001, Jackson locked out Canadian Auto Workers members from his casino at the Plaza of Nations in a dispute over wages. Last year, though, Jackson and the CAW reached an agreement pending the installation of slot machines to make the casino more competitive.
The Vancouver & District Labour Council then passed a motion supporting the rezoning application for slot machines. In 2002, the labour organization contributed $42,600 to COPE's election campaign.
At a January 20 public hearing at Vancouver City Hall, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair and Canadian Auto Workers senior official Anne Davidson both urged the COPE council to approve the rezoning application for slot machines.
Wendy Thompson, executive director of Mount Pleasant Starship Community Charitable Association, also spoke in favour of the rezoning application, even though her group previously opposed the plan.
Thompson told council that the British Columbia Lottery Corp. told her last year that the association's facility, Planet Bingo, no longer met provincial standards, raising doubts about its continued existence.
She said Gary Jackson and Len Libin later invited Planet Bingo to move to their future permanent casino. "The choice was clear," Thompson said.
COPE Coun. Anne Roberts, who voted against the proposal, told the Straight that this was a key factor influencing council. "The brilliance of Ian Reid and the others was dealing with the charity bingo, and all these people then mobilized to fight for a casino," she said.