Illegal gaming on First Nations reserves "continues unabated and is highly visible," according to a 2008 internal government report obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the minister responsible for gaming have both said such crimes are neither prevalent nor a problem - in part, because of the availability of legal gaming business options for aboriginal communities.
The report was prepared for the ministry of public safety and solicitor general by policy consultant Cathy Tait to review the effectiveness of the province's now-defunct anti-illegal gaming team.
It states some First Nations "maintain they have a legal right to conduct commercial gaming activities" - a view not shared by the team or, it appears, the province.
Meeting minutes for the team's consultative board show, on November 30, 2005, the head of British Columbia's gaming policy and enforcement branch summarized the government's position this way: "gaming is within exclusive provincial jurisdiction and there has been no court decision that has recognized and (sic) Aboriginal right to gaming."
But cracking down on illegal aboriginal gaming has "proven to be difficult," Ms. Tait's review states.
In October 2005, police took down a common gaming house on the Adams Lake Indian Band reserve - seizing and destroying eight video gaming machines.
But charges weren't sought "due to the sensitivities regarding this issue."
RCMP spokesperson Rob Vermeulen said that's because "prosecuting could have derailed high-level (government) talks that were going on. Larger issues than illegal gaming were at stake" - although he didn't specifically know what they were.
Sgt. Vermeulen also said the police have been taking a "social regulatory" approach toward illegal gaming on reserves - educating band elders and members "as to what could and couldn't be done as opposed to prosecution."
That means written notices are sent to bands where such crimes are taking place, with the matter being resolved at a political-level if those activities continue.
Despite those efforts, according to Ms. Tait's review, integrated illegal gaming enforcement team staff reported "First Nations gaming continues unabated and is highly visible."
"Take downs without charges are unlikely to be a successful long term strategy to address this concern," the report concludes.
But neither the RCMP or Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman see illegal gaming on reserves as being prevalent or a problem.
Sgt. Vermeulen said, between 2005 and 2008, out of the 328 reported or alleged occurrences of such crimes in British Columbia only 14 were associated with First Nations peoples.
The province's integrated illegal gaming enforcement team - which tabulated those statistics - has since been shutdown, its April 1, 2009 closure being publicly criticized by the unit's former commander Fred Pinnock.
Sgt. Vermeulen acknowledged illegal gaming on First Nations reserves "may still be continuing."
But the RCMP's aboriginal policing service unit has "seen nothing to indicate that illegal gaming on First Nations reserves is a major issue," stated Sgt. Vermeulen adding, "there's also legal options for First Nations gaming enterprise."
And it's those legal options that remain the best way of stopping illegal gaming on reserves, according to Minister Coleman.
"We just opened up a gaming centre in Squamish," he said in a separate interview. "We have the Casino of the Rockies that is on a First Nations reserve over in Cranbrook. We also have another one on the Burrard that is being worked out."
Although, it bears mentioning that, just two months ago, the province's aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister took a somewhat different view of that activity.
Speaking on Shaw TV's Voice of BC, George Abbott said he hadn't heard, "much about interest in First Nations becoming gambling entrepreneurs."
"That was an issue a few years ago as a number of the tribes in the U.S. took on gaming facilities, but it hasn't been something that's really been at all raised, never mind front-and-centre, in recent months."
The following is a complete copy of the relevant section of Ms. Tait's effectiveness review.