Edgewater tops list of criminal incidents at province’s casinos

More criminal incidents such as assaults, cheating and thefts took place at the Edgewater Casino in Vancouver than at any other casino or gambling centre in the province between 2005 and 2010, according to data obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

The Edgewater, with annual revenues of more than $110 million and 3,000 to 5,500 customers a day, is one of B.C.’s largest casinos, located in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown entertainment district at the Plaza of Nations on False Creek.

Responding to the Edgewater’s top criminal-incident ranking, Paragon Gaming Corp. spokeswoman Tamara Hicks said the casino has a safe environment, a product of its advanced security and surveillance system and highly trained staff.

“Our security systems are very comparable, if not stronger, than a bank,” she said. “We track everything. The cameras are there. You can’t go to the bathroom without being watched.”

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Hicks said because of its location – near BC Place Stadium, Rogers Arena and numerous bars – not all incidents reported by the casino to BC Lotteries Corp. are directly related to the Edgewater’s operation.

“People come into the facility to report crimes all the time. You have to take that into consideration,” she said of the casino’s number of criminal incidents.

As a condition of their licences, casino and gaming centres are required to report all types of suspicious incidents to B.C. Lotteries, which manages commercial gambling in the province.

Since the largest casinos are in the Lower Mainland, rarely does a casino in other areas of the province top a criminal incident category reported to B.C. Lotteries.

Police agencies in the Lower Mainland do not consider their responses to criminal incidents at casinos a drain on resources, however.

Through a request under B.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, The Sun obtained a database of incident reports from casinos and gaming centres from Jan. 1, 2005, to July 22, 2010.

The 146,281 reported incidents covered everything from lost chips, false fire alarms, assaults and unattended children.

Of the incident reports, 9,532 were categorized as criminal in nature.

The Edgewater had the most criminal incidents reported during the more-than-five-year period at 1,171, followed by the Cascades Casino in Langley (952) and the Boulevard Casino in Coquitlam (853).

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Criminal incidents fall into 20 categories, including arson, assaults, bomb threats, disturbances, drugs, false identification, fraud, gambling cheats, harassment and indecent exposure. Also on the list are internal thefts, prostitution, robbery, thefts from the casino, thefts from others, threats, trespass, unattended children, underage patrons and vandalism.

The criminal incident reports do not cover suspected money laundering and loan-sharking activities, which must be reported under federal law to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, according to BC Lotteries officials.

During the five-year period covered by the database, the Edgewater topped the list in assaults (63), followed by the Cascades in Langley (58) and the River Rock in Richmond (49).

The Edgewater also topped the incident list for thefts from the casino (58), theft from others (420) and gambling cheats (68).

A gambling cheat incident is any attempt at cheating by a player. It could include adding or taking away bets or the use of a spectator to find out other players’ hands.

The Boulevard in Port Coquitlam led categories in fraud (21), vandalism (84) and harassment (26). The Cascades in Langley barred the most problem patrons from their site (3,802), followed by the Edgewater (2,365) and River Rock (1,598).

The total number of reported criminal incidents is spread among 40 casinos, six of which shut down between 2005 and 2010.

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It means the average number of incidents each year in a particular category at a casino is often low.

For example, the Edgewater had an average of about one dozen assaults and cheating incidents reported annually from 2005 to 2010.

In the theft-from-others category, the Edgewater on average logged less than two incidents per week.

Vancouver police department spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton said police get called out to the Edgewater by staff, victims and witnesses, but their investigations and patrols are considered part of their regular policing.

Langley RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Holly Marks said policing at the Cascades Casino is no different than that required for bars.

And because casinos have advanced security and surveillance, the investigation can often be tied up in a neat package, she said.

“The surveillance video at a casino is high quality, not like a convenience store where every robber looks [alike],” noted Marks.

In a rare case of a smaller casino making the top of a criminal incident category, the Treasure Cove Casino in Prince George in northern B.C. had the third most reported drug incidents, at 102, during the five-year period.

The Starlight Casino in New Westminster reported the most drug incidents (213), followed by the Cascades in Langley (117).

The Treasure Cove, with an annual revenue of $45 million in the fiscal year 2010-11, is much smaller than the largest casinos like the Boulevard ($152 million), Starlight ($119 million) and the Cascades ($113 million).

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The Great Canadian Gaming Corp.-owned River Rock, with $260 million in annual revenues, is the largest casino in the province, but it did not top any of the criminal-incident categories.

Among the large casinos in the Lower Mainland, it had the second most gambling cheats (48), third most assaults (49) and sixth most drug incidents (21).

Howard Blank, Great Canadian vice-president of media and entertainment, said he believes a relaxing environment, security that includes licence-plate recognition and staff training create an environment at the River Rock that defuses and discourages criminal acts. “I just think the people that are going to cause a problem are going to stay away,” said Blank.

The only criminal-incident category led by smaller casinos outside the Lower Mainland was children being left unattended, usually in parking lots.

Casino Nanaimo reported 86 incidents, followed by the Treasure Cove in Prince George (80) and Chances Terrace (58),

While the larger casinos almost always top the criminal incidents lists, taking the size of a casino into consideration changes that picture.

When a casino or gambling centre’s revenue is divided by the number of criminal incidents, the smaller ones generally have higher criminal incident rates than the large ones.

Gambling centres in Squamish, Terrace and Prince Rupert had the top three total criminal incident rates, according to a comparison compiled by The Sun using revenue data from 2005-2010.

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The annual revenue at these small centres – Squamish ($4.8 million), Terrace ($9.9 million) and Prince Rupert ($8.4 million) – is dwarfed by that of the larger centres.

Of the casinos and gaming centres with the top 10 criminal incidents rates, only two were large casinos from the Lower Mainland – the Starlight at No. 8 and the Edgewater at No. 9.

Gambling centres in Langley and Terrace, and Lake City Casino in Kelowna, had the highest rate of assaults.

Not a single large casino made the list of the top 10 highest rates for unattended children, which was led by gambling centres in Squamish, Terrace and Abbotsford.

In an interview, B.C. Lotteries director of operational compliance Bryon Hodgkin said Lotteries BC had not noticed a higher rate of criminal incidents at smaller operations.

Hodgkin, a former RCMP inspector, also said he wouldn’t draw any conclusions from the incident report data, including why, for example, the Cascades in Langley barred from its site 3,802 people between 2005 and 2010, 40-per-cent more than at the Edgewater in second spot. (At the Cascades, the data show that 2,185 of the bans were alcohol-related, but in another 1,600 cases no reason was cited).

Hodgkin also said there were no conclusions to be drawn from the fact that more unattended-children incident reports took place at smaller casinos outside the Lower Mainland.

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Hodgkin said a problem with interpreting the data is that it is possible different observers could mark incidents in different categories.

Hodgkin also said BC Lotteries’ database does not allow incidents that turn out to be unsubstantiated to be taken off the list, which means the incidents could be overstated.

He said it is making changes so incidents can be marked off as unsubstantiated, and there are plans to tighten up the categories.

Said Hodgkin: “I hope that three years down the road, I can say here’s what happened, and this is the trend.”

Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon said it makes little sense to collect the incident data from casinos and then say you cannot draw any conclusions from it.

Gordon, director of the school of criminology, said he suspects the data are simply not being analyzed to determine if there are problems at casinos.

For example, he said, the higher criminal incident rates at smaller casinos could be a result of bigger casinos being watched more carefully.

If the data was being analyzed, it should be reported publicly, and it would not be necessary to use the Freedom of Information Act to access it, said Gordon.