High rollers push B.C.’s gambling profits to new record

B.C. Lottery Corporation take jumps to $1.25 billion with increased $100,000 per hand bet limit in some casinos

Foreign gamblers who bet up to $100,000 in a single hand in some B.C. casinos helped drive the provincial government’s gambling take to a record high last year.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation’s net profit that goes to the province climbed 6.8 per cent to $1.25 billion in 2014-15, up $80 million from the previous year.

The corporation’s annual report says the increase was driven by “exceptional performance” from high-limit table games, which saw the maximum bet raised from $75,000 to $100,000 at some sites.

Casinos such as River Rock in Richmond and the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam offer “ultra-private” high-limit VIP poker rooms and baccarat salons that are popular with Asian tourists.

The increase from high-limit gamblers offset weak results in lotteries, which were down because the year served up fewer large jackpots.

While BCLC has gained from high rollers, the report warns their interest could wane.

“The recent slowdown in some national economies and international currency restrictions present business risks,” the report said, without explicitly mentioning China, where the Beijing government has posted lower growth estimates and intervened to prop up a falling stock market.

“There is risk in this revenue stream as it is heavily dependent on a relatively small international player base,” BCLC board chair Bud Smith said in the report. “We know we cannot rely on this business segment for sustainable long-term growth.”

In fact, BCLC considers both lottery and casino revenues to be mature and “facing market saturation.”

An estimated 51 per cent of B.C. adults gambled through BCLC at least monthly last year. That rate has fallen from 69 per cent in 2012 but BCLC is aiming to get it back up to 55 per cent next year.

The average B.C. resident lost $482 a year to BCLC, up from $450 in 2012 and $382 in 2005.

More than $950 million in net BCLC profit came from casinos and slot-equipped community gaming centres, compared to $304 million from lotteries and e-gaming.

River Rock had the highest combined slot and table game revenue of $420 million last year, followed by $204 million at the Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby, $150 million at Vancouver’s Edgewater Casino, $125 million at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver,  $109 million at Starlight in New Westminster, $106 million at Cascades in Langley, and $53 million at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino in Cloverdale, where a rebranding under the name “Elements” is underway.

Overall, $1.04 billion was lost gambling at those Lower Mainland casinos in 2014.

Net profits from BCLC help the province fund health, education and grants to community groups. Host municipalities also get a share of casino profits.

Out of each dollar gambled in B.C., 43 cents goes to provincial and community programs, 23 cents goes to prizes, 23 cents goes to commissions and fees, nine per cent is operating expenses and two per cent is federal tax.

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