Casinos told not to accept customers who work at marijuana dispensaries

fincen-casinos-marijuanaWe may have figured out why Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson was so eager to give $2.5m to an advocacy group trying to prevent Florida from legalizing medical marijuana. On Thursday, US federal regulators told attendees at the 2014 Bank Secrecy Conference in Las Vegas that casinos couldn’t accept bets from people working in the medical marijuana industry.

The guidelines are the product of the same federal-state schism that has prevented banks from doing business with marijuana dispensaries even in states where non-medical sales are permitted, such as Colorado and Washington. Banks fear being accused of violating federal anti-drug laws, which have failed to keep pace with those in more progressive states. The same problem has plagued New Jersey’s regulated online gambling market, as financial institutions are fearful of violating federal anti-online gambling statutes.

KQED News quoted former White House anti-money laundering advisor Jim Dowling telling gaming execs that there was nothing stopping a medical marijuana employee from walking into a casino and dropping a few bucks onto a blackjack table (assuming they weren’t wearing an ‘I sell dope’ t-shirt). But for a casino to knowingly accept a bet from a pot purveyor, or if said purveyor were to wager sufficiently large sums for a casino to take notice, the casino would have to subject him or her to extensive background checks and submit reports on the gambler’s wagering to federal regulators every 90 days. What, no colonoscopy?

Also speaking at Thursday’s shindig was Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director at the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Calvery has previously scolded casino operators about their apparent disinterest in the source of their high-rollers’ bankrolls. On Thursday, Calvery called casinos “complex financial institutions” that must get used to “thinking more like other financial institutions” in their approach to combating money laundering.

Calvery noted how casinos use “sophisticated monitoring tools” to profile customers in order to tailor offers specific to these customers’ tastes. “These same kinds of monitoring and customer service capabilities can and should be leveraged for [AML] purposes.” Presumably, Calvery hopes high-rollers will dutifully fill out the customer comment cards in their hotel rooms, or become avid users of MGM ResortsmyVEGAS social casino platform, in order that their web-surfing can be documented to see if they’re regularly logging on to or something.