A provincial government-funded Royal Canadian Mounted Police team charged with investigating illegal gambling was quietly shutdown on April 1, Public Eye has exclusively learned. The shutdown happened less than a month after the government's gaming policy and enforcement branch reported an "increase in the popularity of illegal gaming and unregulated gambling."
RCMP Sergeant Rob Vermeulen said the 12-member team - which looked into everything from dog and cockfighting rings, to money laundering and loan sharking - was dissolved because of "funding pressures and other operational and investigative priorities."
But the ministry of housing and social development, which is responsible for gaming enforcement, offered a different explanation.
According to a ministry spokesperson, many of the integrated illegal gaming enforcement team's investigations overlapped with local police investigations. As a result, it was decided it would be more efficient for the ministry's gaming inspectors to work directly with those local forces rather then with the integrated team.
But New Democrat housing and social development critic Shane Simpson questioned that decision.
"It's not like illegal gaming knows municipal boundaries. It travels across borders," he said. "And it simply makes sense to have some kind of coordination to bring that kind of activity under control."
"I suspect this is just another example of the government in panic mode about how to deal with its deficit and its fiscal problems and ignoring the fact it's going to allow illegal activity to continue to accomplish that reduction in spending."
Between fiscal 2003/04 and 2008/09 the team received $6.5 million from the government via the British Columbia Lottery Corp.
That sponsorship agreement has been in effect since February 2003, with the government referring to the team as a "key element" of its illegal gambling enforcement strategy.
According to Sergeant Vermeulen, the decision to shutdown the team was made by its five-member consultative board, three of whom are from the government.
That decision was never announced, instead being included as a footnote in the lottery corporation's financial statements.
A fiscal 2007/08 survey found just 28.5 percent of British Columbians were satisfied with how the government regulates gambling.
Lottery corporation funding for the integrated illegal gaming enforcement team
Fiscal 2003/04 - $759,419
Fiscal 2004/05 - $628,000
Fiscal 2005/06 - $1.474 million
Fiscal 2006/07 - $1.600 million
Fiscal 2007/08 - $1.094 million
Fiscal 2008/09 - $981,000