The president of an association representing British Columbian community gaming centres and bingo halls says top provincial Liberal backroom operative Patrick Kinsella attended meetings between owner/operators and the provincial government as a free favour to the industry. In an interview with Public Eye, Tom Nellis said, "He's never received a cheque or payment or any kind of compensation whatsoever" - from the Registered Gaming Management Companies of B.C. or his own company, Playtime Community Gaming Centres Inc. "He's never been asked to do anything for us or by us."
According to a calendar entry exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, Mr. Kinsella was scheduled to attend a February 9, 2006 meeting between then solicitor general John Les, Mr. Nellis and other centre and hall owners.
Mr. Nellis said he couldn't remember Mr. Kinsella being at that meeting. But "he's been at some meetings. We've always looked at Patrick as a friend of the industry and as a friend of the government. And we said, 'Why not have him aware of what we're talking to government about.' We certainly didn't ask Patrick to advocate or lobby on our behalf. And, whenever Patrick has been there, he's been nothing but a quiet observer."
"There's a number of us who support this government," continued Mr. Nellis, whose companies have donated donated at least $37,898 to the Liberals since 2005. "We know Patrick does. He's a friendly person to industry and to government. So we invited him as our guest."
Mr. Nellis said other people who "may be known" to the province's elected officials have received similar invitations. And they have helped the industry "with getting what we think is the right course correction for everyone involved."
The calendar entry states Mr. Nellis and his colleagues were scheduled to talk with Mr. Les about "the absence of effective public/private sector partnerships," "continuing contract uncertainty - term and conditions" and "unrealized potential for Government and the Private Sector."
Asked about those issues, Mr. Nellis - who stressed that similar meetings took place between the industry and the previous New Democrat government - said owners have been looking to lengthen their contracts with British Columbia Lotteries Corp. and convert existing bingo halls to community gaming centres.
"There're communities throughout the province that aren't large enough to host a casino - that have bingo halls that are not functioning at the level they could," he explained. "People in some of those communities turn to Internet gaming or have to travel a long ways to a site that has gaming."
"So what we've always advocated for is if it's a legalized activity - gaming in the province - maybe there should be venues in those other cities that can satisfy the customer demand, which then fulfills the market that is under-served. You can't have a person - for example - drive from Castlegar to Penticton to play the casino."
The meeting was held at The Vancouver Club. In addition to Messrs. Kinsella and Nellis, scheduled attendees included former Playtime director Ken Mahon, Bingo Bingo Esquimalt owner Mark Eraut, Signal Point Community Gaming Centre owner Merle Gardner and Boardwalk Gaming and Entertainment Inc. consultant Peter McMahon.
Under the Lobbyists Registration Act, consultant lobbyists are required to sign-up if they, for pay, communicate with an office holder in an attempt to influence government. As a result, Mr. Kinsella wouldn't have needed to register for his work with the industry.