A new taskforce called the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team has been constituted in the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C) to fight money laundering and related illegal financial transactions occurring in the province’s casinos.
According to the B.C government, the amount of cash transactions categorized as questionable has exceeded $119 million in the last 12 months, giving rise to concern and leading to the formation of the new multi-agency team.
Kevin Hackett, chief operating officer of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. has said that the new team will focus on containing the rising incidence of suspicious activities in casinos, including people walking in with bags of cash to B.C’s casinos.
Data released by B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong showed that during the past 12 months. The maximum suspicious activity occurred in July 2015 with questionable transactions of $20.7 million taking place in that July alone. In 2014, the Starlight in New Westminster and the River Rock in Richmond flagged cash transactions worth almost $27 million as suspicious over a three month period.
Jong said the current initiative was completely different from earlier attempts to tackle the problem. In a statement Jong said,
This one is focused directly on money laundering and suspected money laundering along with organized criminals operating within casinos in British Columbia.
The new unit comprises 22 personnel from CFSEU which is the province’s anti-gang agency and four members from B.C. Gaming and Enforcement Branch team.
Funding of around $4.3 million per year will be required for the team and 70 percent of it will be provided by B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC). Hackett dismissed worries of conflict of interest arising from receiving funding from BCLC which profits from casino operations in B.C. He said that he was not concerned about the source of the funds for the team as his primary focus was on building the best possible team to tackle the problem.
Recent media reports have revealed that B.C casinos have very few safeguards in place against money laundering, with people being able to easily change cash for chips and then cash out and walk away with clean money. The government has however claimed that it has taken multiple measures to counter the issue.
Some of the strategies implemented by the government include limiting use of chips to a single facility, restricting chip passage on casino floors, limiting exchange of large currency notes for smaller ones in casinos and encouraging use of payment alternatives to cash like debit cards, patron gaming fund accounts and convenience checks.