Drake incident sparks PR crisis for Parq Vancouver

Rapper claims he was racially profiled and prevented from gambling

Rap star Drake: “the worst-run business I have ever witnessed ... profiling me and not allowing me to gamble when I had everything they originally asked me for” | Twocoms/Shutterstock

Parq Vancouver’s response to rap superstar Drake’s claim that the business racially profiled him and barred him from gambling sheds light on the perils of inadequate public relations crisis readiness, marketing experts say.

Drake’s experience at the entertainment and hotel complex in the early morning of November 3 prompted him to write on Instagram to his 50 million followers that Parq was “the worst-run business I have ever witnessed ... profiling me and not allowing me to gamble when I had everything they originally asked me for.”

Parq Vancouver issued its first statement at 11:50 a.m., or about eight hours later, saying it was sorry to hear of the incident and that it was investigating the issue.

 “We are required to adhere to strict regulations with respect to gaming in British Columbia,” the hotel said in its statement. But it did not explain how this was relevant to the incident.

Its updated statement at 5:30 p.m. apologized for “the experience our customer had,” and said that, as a company, “we categorically stand against racism of any kind,” but it did not deny that there was a racist incident on the morning in question.

When Business in Vancouver asked Parq for clarity on the incident, Parq’s director of resort marketing, Narinder Nagra, cited “guest privacy” in declining to comment further.

McConchie Law Corp. privacy lawyer Roger McConchie confirmed to BIV that federal and provincial privacy laws restrict what companies can reveal about customers, particularly when it relates to financial dealings. He added, however, that if a customer wrongly claims to be the victim of an arbitrary or racist service denial, the company “would be entitled to deny it, or at least they wouldn’t be prevented by privacy law from denying the allegation.”

He added, however, that other lawyers might disagree with him on that point.

“The public is left to believe casino staff acted arbitrarily and this could happen again,” said Renu Bakshi, who is a media trainer and crisis manager at Renu Bakshi Communications Inc.

Bakshi said both of Parq’s statements “are poorly written, disjointed and do nothing to reassure the public that casino staff was following strict government protocols” aimed at ensuring the integrity of the gambling industry.

She said that she would have provided information about B.C. government regulations that went into effect in December 2017 and require B.C. casinos to have customers fill out forms and specify where their money came from if they are gambling with more than $10,000.

She said she would have made clear that the intent of the new law is to combat money laundering.

It is unclear if money-laundering regulations were the reason Drake was denied service, and it would be against privacy laws for Parq to say so, according to McConchie.

Still, Bakshi said, a carefully worded statement could have provided more insight.

“I would have provided some details of the incident without compromising privacy or laying blame,” Bakshi said. “Context is everything.”

Branding expert and Your Brand Marketing principal Ben Baker added that Parq failed to appropriately manage public perceptions of the incident.

“It doesn’t really matter what happened,” he said. “It’s the perception of what happened.”

To better manage that perception, Baker said, Parq should have been more up front with details of the incident.

If, as had been detailed by many anonymous posters on social media, the problem was that Drake sent one of his entourage to buy gambling chips and that person was not willing or able to fill out forms to prove where the money originated, the casino should have said that, Baker said.

If, on the other hand, there really was a racist incident where Drake was discriminated against, the casino should have terminated that employee and been up front about how it dealt with the situation, he said.

“The fact that they apologized is wonderful,” Baker said. Not so wonderful was “the fact that they didn’t say why they were apologizing, or what, in their view, the issue was that led to this happening.”

Both official statements, Baker said, danced around the issue of B.C. government regulations that kick in when potential gamblers bring in more than $10,000 in cash.

Every day that Parq fails to come out with a statement to say what happened is a day when Drake’s fans “crucify” the casino, Baker said.

“That will cost them hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in public relations,” he said.

Apogee Public Relations principal Shawn Hall said that one positive move Parq made was to respond promptly – within eight hours on a Saturday morning.

He advises companies to have written procedures to ensure that public relations officials can provide speedy responses in case there is an incident. That includes providing them with cell-phone numbers of any employees who might have essential information.