Thursday, May 31, 2007

Liberals look inept, uncaring in lottery scandal

Everything about the B.C. Lotteries scandal is just so sleazy. It's not just the incompetence and the false assurances. No one is taking responsibility.
The government corporation charged with promoting gambling left the door wide open for fraud. People who bet on Keno or lotteries - and against all odds win - risk being cheated out of their prizes. It's easy for corrupt retailers to tell people their tickets are worthless, then turn around and claim the prize.
The public guardian is supposed to be the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch in the Solicitor General's Ministry. But it was useless. Worse than useless, really. When the issue finally became too big to ignore, athe branch didn't investigate to see if people were being cheated. It offered up false reassurance.
So did Solicitor General John Les, who provided inaccurate information to the public about their safety from fraud and theft.
And none of this would have come out, if it was left to B.C. Lotteries or the ministry. It would have been hidden.
But the CBC did a story on the extraordinary number of lottery ticket sellers who won prizes in Ontario. The Vancouver Sun filed a freedom of information request, and reported the same was true in B.C.
That was last fall. The news stories offered the government and B.C. Lotteries a chance to respond with a real investigation.
They didn't. Quite the opposite. Instead of addressing the problems, they went into what the NDP calls cover-up mode. B.C. Lotteries and the enforcement branch claimed they had investigated and there was nothing to be concerned about.
There were only 74 cases of potential fraud and everyone had been investigated, B.C. Lotteries said. The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch said it had done its own investigation and everything was fine. It had reviewed all 74 cases, the branch said.
Les said the public had nothing to worry about. "In the past few years, the B.C. Lottery Corp. has received only 74 complaints about lottery ticket validation concerns and those were all fully investigated and resolved," Les said "When a retailer claimed a prize, a detailed investigation was conducted."
None of that was true.
The government said that should end the matter. But the province's ombudsman was hearing from consumer complaints and decided to launch an investigation.
The ombudsman's findings, just released, are grim. There are no effective procedures to protect people from being cheated. Neither the lottery corporation nor the enforcement branch did anything to check for scams by unscrupulous dealers in kiosks, stores or bars. It was up to the public to somehow detect fraud. But when people did complain, they were usually brushed off.
That claim of 74 cases. False, the ombudsman said. There were more like 200. The claim that every case was investigated. False. The enforcement branch's statement that it had reviewed the corporation's handling of those cases. False. The claims of controls to ensure retailers weren't cheating. False.
The enforcement branch's performance was particularly dozy. In the four years since it was created, the branch did not conduct one investigation into the integrity of the lottery corporation's retail network.
The law requires every suspected case to be reported to be the branch, but it never noticed that it hadn't received a single report since 2002.
Its investigation into the allegations looked to be more about public relations for B.C. Lotteries than protecting the public. "The depth of the investigation and the fact that a number of disquieting pieces of information were toned down or left out contributes to this result," the ombudsman found.
Les has ordered another audit and says he's unhappy.
He has yet to explain why he didn't make an effort to ensure the public was protected.
An audit by a company hired by Les and working under orders set out by his ministry would be hopelessly inadequate. A proper, independent inquiry into the whole gambling expansion and its consequences is needed.
Footnote: As solicitor general, Les is responsible for promoting gambling, overseeing the enforcement branch and dealing with addiction. The conflicts are obvious. Since tougher enforcement or a focus on problem gambling hurts revenues. It's reasonable to assume that everyone involved took their cue from the Liberals, who put money ahead of principle when they abandoned their 2001 promise to halt gambling expansion as soon as they were elected.


Anonymous said...

A couple of days ago in the house les wa asked about preformance bonuses for the CEO of the gambling Crown Corp. According to les it wasn't up to him to stop the fellow getting a bonus, it was up to the board. Within 24 hours his story changed to "I want the board to check and decide about bonuses soon" Anyone who believes much of anything John Les says is smoking something

Anonymous said...

Its ok A free vote on the pay raise they all walked lock step and went for it while laying off the staff for sexually abused CHILDREN. The Liberals won the lottery while the public got abused.This government has not ever shown any accountbility for its actions and the Lower mainland will help it be unaccountable again

Anonymous said...

Solicitor General John Les raises 'BingoGate' in his defense of the BC Liberals inactions (May 30, 2007).

Perhaps Les has forgotten that the then Premier did the honourable deed by falling on his sword... anyone taking bets that Campbell, or any of his elected minions, will resign over LottoGate?

Just to keep the record straight: Did the NDP "commitment to repay the charities in Nanaimo" as Les alledges?