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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: The night River Rock casino made Mike de Jong a star

Exclusive: The night River Rock casino made Mike de Jong a star

Bob Mackin

The Richmond casino at the centre of an anti-money laundering report, that the BC Liberals buried, gave Mike de Jong a free stage and spotlight for a night, theBreaker has learned. 

Leadership candidate de Jong’s Jan. 14, 2015 “20th Anniversary in the Legislature Roast” happened 78 kilometres west of his Abbotsford riding, at River Rock Casino Resort. While he was finance minister from 2012 to 2017, de Jong’s duties included oversight of the public-owned gambling promoter, B.C. Lottery Corporation, and its regulator, Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. 

BC Liberal leader wannabe de Jong was roasted in 2015 at River Rock Casino Resort.

Chuck Keeling, Great Canadian Gaming’s vice-president, said in an emailed statement to theBreaker that his company regularly hosts non-profit and charitable events “when they align with our community support initiatives and when scheduling allows.”

“Consistent with our typical practice surrounding charitable events, we waived our venue fee and associated audio-visual costs, but charged commercially standard food and beverage rates,” Keeling said. “Great Canadian Gaming or River Rock had no involvement in the planning of the event beyond being the chosen venue.”  

The de Jong roast was billed as a fundraiser for the Abbotsford Hospice Society. Its executive director, Ron Kuehl, told theBreaker that it received $5,000 in proceeds from the event organized by former de Jong aide Dave Cyr. In November 2014, Cyr registered to lobby the government on behalf of River Rock’s parent, Great Canadian Gaming, and he listed de Jong as his target contact.

In an interview, Cyr said he wasn’t the organizer and he couldn’t remember who was. Cyr said that he “helped out on the event, just basically helped sell some tickets for the hospice.” Cyr said 250 to 300 people attended the $125-a-plate event. 

theBreaker asked de Jong’s leadership campaign organization for comment, but nothing came before deadline.

Between April 2015 and May 2017, Great Canadian donated more than $120,000 to the BC Liberals. 

Dermod Travis, of government accountability watchdog IntegrityBC, said a charity roast involving politicians is appropriate if all the funds raised in excess of the cost go to the charity. “It becomes an issue when you do it in a facility that you have regulatory oversight for,” Travis said. 

Clark Tweeted a photo of Farnworth (left) and de Jong showing-off their hairdos.

“It is very clear you do not patronize facilities that are under your regulatory authority, particularly in areas such as gambling, simply because it leaves a perception. You don’t create a situation where a company, a facility that you might one day have to sanction or charge, is also a facility that you are patronizing,” Travis said. “The way to avoid that perception is to find a facility that doesn’t have a casino in it. There’s no shortage in Vancouver.”

Media reports before 2015 already indicated large, suspicious transactions were on the rise at B.C. casinos, including River Rock. Some reports indicated gamblers were arriving with hockey bags full of cash. 

Consultant MNP’s July 2016 report to GPEB said gamblers from China were using underground banks to bring large sums of potentially dirty money to River Rock. The report was finally released last September by NDP Attorney General David Eby, who has vowed to clean-up B.C. casinos.

“The majority of this cash is being presented by persons commonly referred to as high roller Asian VIP clients. Single cash buy-ins in excess of $500,000 with no known source of funds have been accepted at [River Rock],” said MNP’s report.

On Oct. 29 of last year, more than a month after the MNP report’s release, de Jong returned to River Rock for a campaign event with supporter and local Liberal MLA Teresa Wat. (Wat and Clark co-hosted a November 2016 party fundraiser at River Rock, which netted $124,450.42.) 

Great Canadian told its shareholders in early 2015 that River Rock’s table game net revenue jumped 30% during the 2014 Chinese New Year compared to 2013. Just over a month after the de Jong roast, BCLC published its three-year service plan on the annual provincial budget day. It said: “The segment of our business that contributed most to our net income this year – high-limit table games – is heavily dependent on an international player base and the tourism industry.”

Clark appeared at de Jong’s roast in River Rock.

The de Jong roast included appearances by Premier Christy Clark, press gallery veterans Vaughn Palmer and Mike Smyth performing a Coach’s Corner-inspired skit, and de Jong’s NDP counterpart Mike Farnworth, among others. 

Coincidentally, the Abbotsford Hospice Society’s audited financial report for 2015 said that it agreed, on the same day as the de Jong roast, to a $4.3 million B.C. Housing loan at an RBC prime minus 1.75% interest rate. 

A May 2011 B.C. government news release heralded a $3.5 million taxpayer grant towards the society’s $7.5 million fundraising goal for the two-storey, 28,500 square foot hospice. In March 2015, a news release announced another $2.5 million grant and said the society had raised $10 million. It also said construction started in 2013 and the 10-bed, 30,000 square foot hospice would open in 2015. 

The hospice finally opened in April 2016.  

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