Friday, February 25, 2011

$10,000 from Edgewater Casino to be given to Vision/COPE Friends Hosting an Under-the-Table Gambling Operation for Chinese Men at Carnegie Centre

The City of Vancouver took $10,000 from a licensed gambling operation and now plans to give it to their political allies hosting an unlicensed gambling operation.

On Feb. 17, City staff recommended that $10,000 from the "social responsibility" fund, money collected from the Edgewater Casino, be given to Carnegie Centre. It is not news to City staff and management that Carnegie has for years been the site of a gambling operation catering to Chinese men.

"The Chinese guys who sit on the first floor and in the basement playing cards and board games, are they ALL gambling?", a Carnegie member asked a Chinese elder who hangs out with the gamblers. The elder nodded, "All of them. They are all on welfare and they are all gambling."

The elder was asked what they called the board game they play for hours in the basement, the one where they move around pieces that look like white hockey pucks. "That's Chinese chess", he said, explaining that the gamblers sitting on the first floor at Carnegie are playing poker and those sitting in the basement are playing Chinese chess.

Don't get me wrong, this elder wasn't ratting out his pals. He had been listening to a group of us talking about the City of Vancouver's planned expansion of the Edgewater Casino -- "bad idea", he said -- when the topic turned to the fact that the City has been hosting a gambling operation for years at Carnegie. It was obvious to the Chinese elder that we were aware of the gambling at Carnegie 365 days a year, but that our knowledge needed fine-tuning.

This Chinese elder has no interest in the 'poverty services' at Carnegie such as the cafeteria -- "I can cook cheaper at home" -- or the Learning Centre, and is drawn to the Centre solely by the social life surrounding the gambling.

Some of the gamblers at Carnegie are addicted, namely those on Disability welfare, the highest level of welfare which gives them $800 a month. They qualify for Disability, the elder said, because they have "problems", mostly mental health issues. They gamble at both Carnegie and the Edgewater Casino. They make their bigger bets at the Edgewater and their small bets at Carnegie.

The elder says that although there can be $5 or $10 bets at the gambling tables at Carnegie, most of the bets made there are under $5. And because the gamblers are fairly evenly matched, they each win a few games and lose a few, and by the end of an evening of gambling, they may owe as little as $2, or they may have broken even.

Gamblers at Carnegie don't pay after each game, but keep track of what's owed on a small piece of paper on the table. After hours of gambling, money is passed under the table.

These gamblers, according to another Chinese elder, live "miserable" lives, partially as a result of becoming indebted to a loan shark. When they borrow from the loan shark, "they have to pay back double."

Carnegie used to provide in-house loan shark services, under former director Michael Clague. (Clague, who told a member that he had come to Carnegie to top up his pension, was awarded the Order of Canada for his work there and has now loaned his name to the 'Vancouver Not Vegas' campaign to stop the expansion of the Edgewater Casino.) W. Myles, an SFU graduate and volunteer tutor at the Carnegie Learning Centre, repeatedly complained to Clague, both verbally and in writing, that a security guard, Paul H., a City employee and CUPE member, was loan sharking. One of her students, Danny, was seriously in debt to this loan shark. She was frustrated by Clague's apparent disinterest in her complaint. Several bloggers, including myself, knew Danny too; he was a heavy smoker who was definitely relying on loan shark services to keep himself in tobacco. At the end of each month he would owe most of his welfare cheque to the loan shark before he had even cashed it.

"How come security guards like Ted Chaing who speak Chinese don't anything [about the gambling]?", a Chinese elder was asked. Chaing afterall spends hours standing at his security post at the front lobby reception desk -- where the loan shark used to stand -- just a few feet from the gambling tables, and he speaks Chinese. The elder said security doesn't catch them because people are gambling for about six hours, but spending only one minute exchanging money. "Compare six hours to one minute", he said.

An elder pointed out too that even if security sees one patron handing $5 to another, the patron can simply say that he had borrowed that money and was paying it back. Even if security thinks it's a gambling payment, "They can't prove it."

Since when though did Carnegie security need proof? They regularly bar people without proof, without due process. There are records of people being barred for months or years without proof. A person can even be barred if they anger the wrong people by getting elected to the Board of Directors. This blog has been devoted to covering this epidemic of baseless barrings.

The gambling operation at Carnegie contradicts the City's public relations spiel about eliminating activities in the Centre that could tempt people who "struggle" with addictions. There are Caucasian people at Carnegie who struggle with gambling addictions. A guy who wears a Jed Clampet style, old floppy hat, and and smokes on the patio just metres away from the gambling tables, used to regularly lose his entire welfare cheque in one night at the Edgewater.

The Carnegie pr spiel includes a claim about how they attempt to make the building a comfortable environment for women and children. Staff and management did nothing to make a three year old boy feel comfortable when his father was fixated on the gambling in the basement. Every evening for at least a year, the father would bring the boy, who spoke only Chinese, to the Carnegie basement where he would stand idle for at least four hours, maybe as many as six, waiting for the gambling to end. The guards would go down to the basement at 10 p.m. and close the gambling down; (they allow the poker on the first floor to go until 11 p.m.) On two occasions, I saw women who used the Centre, not staff, briefly occupying the boy with picture books. The boy was well dressed and fed, just idle, sometimes peering through the window of the Seniors' Lounge looking at the large television screen. (He wasn't allowed inside because he wasn't forty.) A middle-aged Chinese woman who frequents the Centre -- the only Chinese woman who I would say hangs out there -- eventually asked the boy in Chinese where his mother was. He said she had died.

Emotional abandonment of children is a routine part of a gambling addiction. I saw a documentary about gambling in Los Vegas, where they highlighted this type of neglect. They showed children wandering around the lobby of a casino waiting for hours for their parents. They reported that a newborn infant had been left for 12 hours in a casino childcare centre while the parents lost themselves in gambling. At least a childcare centre is organized to provide stimulation, for older children anyway, unlike Carnegie which does nothing to offset the effects of the gambling. Maybe the $10,000 social responsibility grant could be used to address that "community services" gap.

That boy may still be playing the waiting game at Carnegie every night. I don't know. Since Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty ordered the much-in-demand public computers removed from the basement, most of the people I would go down there to chat with stopped showing up, so I did too. More privacy for the gamblers.

The fact that Carnegie hosts a gambling operation is not a big problem for most people who go to Carnegie, including myself. But the City's priorities do irk some computer users. City management at Carnegie takes the position that they really don't have much room for public access computers, a service people line up for at Carnegie. Their Computer Room is tiny, tucked at the back of the third floor next to the washrooms, so close in fact that computer-users can hear people farting and peeing in the men's washroom. The room has no windows to the outside world and is so narrow that you cannot walk past computer-users without bumping their chairs, which causes friction between people. Yet one of the most spacious and pleasant areas in the Centre, with a row of tall, old windows, is the first floor sitting room where the gambling operation has run unchecked for years. It's right under the noses of security and just a few yards from the office of security boss, Skip Everall.

Why does the City of Vancouver continue to play host to a gaming operation? Because they're playing the diversity game. There's a lot of money riding on it. Part of Carnegie's funding schtick is that they encourage cultural diversity and harmony. They have hustled grants for such programs as native "cultural sharing" in the theater once a week, where the program's native leader's idea of cultural sharing was banging his white co-leader.

The value of a congregation of Chinese faces immediately visible to anybody walking in the front door of Carnegie, can't be underestimated. Politicians with media in tow come to look around. (Former Premier Glen Clarke, who incidentally faced resistance over his plan for slot machines, toured Carnegie.) When funders see the swarm of Chinese faces sitting at the tables, they're thinking, 'multicultural paradise'. Carnegie members are thinking, 'Edgewater Light'.

The Naked City

We told you so. Lies are in David McLellan's comfort zone. We warned you in January when McLellan, the City's General Manager of Community Services, was appointed by City Hall as media spokesperson on the departure of Deputy Chief License Inspector, Carlene Robbins. Robbins' exited City Hall shortly after a fire at a flophouse in East Van killed three men.

I can still see in my mind's eye, the clip of McLellan telling the media that Robbins' departure was not related to the flophouse fire. McLellan said he had been in a meeting with Robbins and she had suddenly up and left, turning in her building security pass before leaving the building.

Now Robbins has filed suit in BC Supreme court suggesting that McLellan knew more than he was admitting. Robbins claimed that after the flophouse fire at City Hall, she was removed from the job she had held for 12 years, that she was effectively fired and lost her $105,000 salary. That story was broken last night by CKNW, so it is old news.

What is also old news, at least to Downtown Eastsiders, is the environment Robbins described the City as being motivated to create for someone they viewed as a political liability. Robbins' claimed in her suit that under Mayor Robertson's regime, an environment of "hostility, embarrassment, and humiliation" was created for her.

Downtown Eastsiders have been using those exact words for years to describe the way they are treated when the City decides they are a political liability. A targeted individual is subjected on a regular basis to overt hostility, embarrassment, and humiliation, until they leave and don't come back. It's not only the big things that can drive a person out the door, like being verbally or physically abused in a highly public manner, chased around the building, libeled in secretive "security" reports; it's the small things too. Like if a targeted individual goes to the front reception desk where membership cards are sold and renewed annually, the receptionist, Kim, may huff and puff to express her exasperation at having to answer a mere question (for twenty something dollars an hour). The targeted individual then has a choice: absorb the abuse or risk having security called to write them up in the City's security database. Enough of these episodes and most people leave and don't come back. (A guy from Iran used to play chess at Carnegie and he told us that he was once in a cue at a government office in Iran and had an argument with another person in the cue. When it was his turn at the wicket, the government worker asked him his name and he realized that it would not be healthy to give his name as a security report would probably be written about the argument.)

One security guard, Ty, when angrily barring a woman who says she had never seen him before in her life, made comments revealing that he was being incited by Penny Ballem and Mayor Robertson to get dissidents out of the building.

T. Kwan is a Carnegie member who recently encountered an environment of hostility, embarrassment, and humiliation, after complaining to his MLA Jenny Kwan about unfair treatment by City management at Carnegie. Kwan, who is still dealing with the effects of a nervous breakdown he suffered at 9 years old when his mother died, told his MLA that he had been barred from City services at Carnegie for months on the basis, as told to him by security boss Skip Everall, that he had "a big mouth". When his MLA arranged for Carnegie management to allow him back into the building, he got the impression that Everall was gunning for him. Everall found an excuse to bar him a second time. Kwan has decided never to return.

There are eight million stories in the naked City. Robbins' is just one of them.