NS Gaming Corp vows never again to fund expert witnesses.
When a government agency is in the wrong, and the public finds out about it, the results could be anything from major firings throughout the group, to a slap on the wrist by some higher government organization. In the case of Nova Scotia Gaming Corp (NSGC), they are ostensibly hoping to avoid any range of extrinsic punishment by metaphorically slapping their own wrists.
It all stems from a situation that arose in late 2018. The provincial gaming regulator made the shady decision to fund a trip for so-called expert witnesses, who testified in the regulator’s favor. Thanks in part to their testimony, a bill was passed that will inevitably increase revenue for the NSGC.
Buying Lobbyists To Shrink Problem Gambling Program
The Crown Corporation coerced the three witnesses to travel to Nova Scotia from across the country by offering to pay a combined $7,135 in travel expenses and accommodations. Each of those experts—all of which are associated with the Responsible Gambling Council in Ontario—testified at a legislative hearing in favor of making it easier for individuals who’ve signed up for the voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) program to get their name removed from the list.
The VSE program is in place to help gambling addicts who recognize they have a problem to seek help. Once a resident adds their name to the VSE list, they are not supposed to be able to enter, gamble at, or cash out winning from either of the Nova Scotia Casinos in Halifax or Sydney.
Prior to this hearing, signing up for self-exclusion automatically enforced a lifetime ban from these casinos. The only way to get the ban lifted was to endure a long, arduous and invasive process, in which the individual’s personal and financial records were scrutinized. Then, the individual would appear before a review board that will decide whether or not to reverse the exclusion.
Following the hearing, that process was eradicated. In October, those expert witnesses—who, again, are part of the Responsible Gambling Council—helped convince lawmakers to support and pass an amendment introduced by Finance Minister Karen Casey that eliminated life-time VSE, allowing only for shorter terms, and an easier reversal process.
Shame On Us! NSGC Fines Itself $7,135 in Travel Expenses
When the media caught wind of NSGC footing the bill for these witnesses to testify in support of the plan—several weeks after the amendment was passed on October 11, 2018—the Crown Corporation was berated from all angles for its actions.
Even Premier Stephen McNeil had some nasty words for the provincial regulator’s flagrant misbehavior and conflict of interest. After all, the NSGC derives its revenue from casinos, video lottery terminals (VLTs) and lottery sales. Suffice to say, the more money we gamble, the more money they make.
Earlier this month, a letter surfaced, written by Robert MacKinnon, CEO of the NSGC. In that letter, which was part of a previous committee meeting in which the regulator answered question from the government, MacKinnon takes all responsibility for funding the trips of those expert witnesses, and vows never to use tax payer dollars in such a way again.
“We have learned a great deal from this experience,” said MacKinnon, who proceeded to slap his agency on the wrist by assuring officials that $7,135 had been stricken from the NSGC’s own travel expense budget to make up for it.
In its 2017/18 revenue report, the NSGC saw $1.39 billion in wagers across casinos, bingo, VLTs, ALC lotteries, and charitable lotteries, resulting in $350.3 million in net gain (wagers minus winnings paid). I, for one, would like to see how much more revenue the NSGC wrangles up in the 2018/19 fiscal year, following the loosening of VSE laws. I’d be willing to bet it’s more than $7,135…