Ferry gambling idea jettisoned as money-loser

Business case torpedoes plan for on-board slot machines on B.C. ferries

Casino gambling aboard BC Ferries has been ruled out by the provincial government.

The province wanted to test slot machines on Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferries as a potential money maker to boost revenue at BC Ferries but a business analysis found it would instead lose $240,000 a year, because of the staffing, equipment and technology costs.

“Ultimately, the costs, risks and procedural changes required to operate [electronic gaming devices] on a BC Ferries vessel outweigh the financial gains,” the BCLC review says.

Extra costs and time for BCLC and the provincial gaming enforcement branch weren’t considered in initial estimates, it says.

The review also red-flagged various potential security challenges.

“Disputes over game outcomes, thefts, delayed jackpots due to irregularities, children being left unattended if guardians enter the gaming facility during the sailing and other issues” might cause delays for passengers and damage the reputation of BC Ferries and BCLC, it said.

Unlike casinos on land, police couldn’t deal with a problem until the ferry docks.

The Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay run passes through U.S. waters for at least 20 minutes, the review noted.

“There is the potential that a portion of all sales aboard the vessels, including gaming revenue, may need to be shared with Washington State.”

Other issues included lack of a consistent connection to BCLC’s network and the need for ferries staff to adhere to strict BCLC cash-handling procedures and perform many of the responsibilities of casino employees, from solving technical problems to recognizing problem gamblers.

The review said allowing ferry passengers to gamble at slot machines without the food, drink and entertainment options BCLC requires at casinos would be a break from current policy and might be criticized as a move towards video lottery terminals that are otherwise banned in B.C.

The province says planned mid-life upgrades to the Spirit Class ferries will expand the gift shops and relocate the coffee shop to take advantage of available space to raise more revenue.

“While the BC Lottery Corporation’s analysis showed that this idea wouldn’t make money, we’ll remain open to other revenue-generating services,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said.

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