BCLC chair had stake in Alberta casino development

T. Richard Turner had a stake in a Paragon Gaming Inc. casino development in Alberta while he was chair of British Columbia Lottery Corp.'s board of directors, Public Eye has exclusively learned. In an interview, Mr. Turner - who became head of the lottery corporation in December 2001 - confirmed he's a minority shareholder in Tamarack Fund (2003) Limited Partnership. That partnership owns a small portion of Edmonton's River Cree Resort and Casino, which was developed by Paragon Gaming and the Enoch Cree First Nation and opened in October 2006. In response to an inquiry placed by Public Eye on March 31, a spokesperson for the lottery corporation stated Mr. Turner advised BCLC of that financial interest in January 2005. Back then, Paragon Gaming had no operations in British Columbia. Nor was Mr. Turner aware it had any West Coast ambitions.

"I didn't even know Paragon wanted to look at B.C.," Mr. Turner said, explaining he invested in River Cree because he had cash on hand from the sale of his air cargo facility business in 2003.

"We were looking to redeploy the funds into something else. So we turned real estate into cash. And we were looking to deploy the cash at that time...To me, it's no different than buying IBM or Royal Bank or Encana," he continued, adding his investment amounts to no more one-and-a-half percent of the partnership.

On December 9, 2005, Mr. Turner resigned as chair of the lottery corporation. Six months later, he joined the board of directors of the Paragon Gaming division that purchased Vancouver's financially troubled Edgewater Casino on September 1, 2006.

At the time of the purchase, the casino's first year revenues were $43.5 million less than the $116.5 million the lottery corporation had expected it to generate.

Mr. Turner said that, as chair of BCLC, he made no decisions concerning Edgewater between January 2005 and the time of his departure. Nor was he involved in the purchase of that casino.

Mr. Turner, who is presently chair of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, also stated he doesn't recall meeting Paragon Gaming's principals - Diana Bennett and Scott Mentke - until 2006.

He made his earlier investment in River Cree after being approached by a member of an accounting firm.

Public Eye brought Mr. Turner's relationship with the Las Vegas-based company to light last week - prompting questions about whether he was involved its recent 70-year lease agreement with PavCo to build a major casino near BC Place.

A Paragon Gaming spokesperson told us Mr. Turner "was not involved" in the company's response to PavCo's request for proposals to develop the lands west of that stadium.

During estimates debate, the province's tourism minister also said the ICBC chair "did not participate in the negotiations at all and had no influence in the content of the lease whatsoever."

But Kevin Krueger stated Mr. Turner did phone him after PavCo selected Paragon Gaming as its preferred bidder.

The minister said Mr. Turner warned him the lack of retractable roof for BC Place could be a "deal breaker" for the company.

At the time, the bids to build that roof had exceeded the government's original cost estimate.

Mr. Turner subsequently told The Vancouver Sun's Jonathan Fowlie he wasn't trying to "influence any decision" by placing that call.

"What I recall saying is...if the roof doesn't go ahead, that's fine, but we can't build what we said we'd build in the bid because we're counting on synergies between BC Place as renovated and the new development," he said.

The ICBC chair is also a minority shareholder in Tamarack Fund Alexis Limited Partnership, which owns a stake in Paragon Gaming's Eagle River Casino and Travel Plaza. Mr. Turner said that investment was made after he resigned from BCLC.

2 Comments

It feels as if British Columbians have been waiting forever for this kind of report on so many issues ... great work, Sean, and much appreciated.

Shocked, but not surprised. Someone else said it first but this Casino affair confirms the way British Columbia Liberals conduct the public business. Now, simply await the next incident. It will become apparent soon.

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