US Treasury Department money laundering risk assessment targets casinos

casino-money-launderingNevada casinos confiscate around $40k in counterfeit cash every week, according to a new US government study.

Last week saw the release of the Treasury Department’s national money laundering risk assessment, which is viewable here (the casino section starts on page 74), although be forewarned that it often reads like a hypochondriac’s database of things that could go wrong.

The phony cash claim comes via the Secret Service, who linked the counterfeiters with ‘minimal gaming,’ where gamblers make major cash deposits but cash out for a casino check or a wire transfer after minimal play.

The most commonly reported suspicious activity at Nevada casinos was structuring transactions so they fly under federal reporting limits, and most of this structuring happens at the sportsbooks.

But the “most significant money laundering vulnerability” at US casinos lies in their international expansion. The government fears gamblers who establish accounts with international operators will be allowed to access “foreign funds of questionable origin” via US casinos. The report specifically cites Las Vegas Sands’ $47.4m settlement for accepting dodgy deposits from alleged Mexican drug traffickers.

A year prior to its Mexican settlement, Sands found itself in hot water for transferring $100k between Las Vegas and Macau on behalf of Heung Wah Keng, a man linked with Macau junket operators. Sands has since stopped all international transfers on behalf of customers but Heung’s name recently resurfaced in a Nevada courtroom.

Sands connection with Heung and reputed triad member Cheung Chi Tai was questioned during last month’s hearings of former Sands China CEO Steve Jacobs wrongful termination suit. Jacobs claims he was fired for challenging Sands boss Sheldon Adelson over Sands’ relationships with sketchy characters.

Among the documents discussed during the hearings were background investigations Sands China commissioned on both Heung and Cheung. The investigations were handled by Steve Vickers, a highly regarded former senior superintendent of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.

Shortly after US District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled that the Jacobs case would be conducted in the US, the publisher of UK newspaper The Guardian filed a motion to unseal the Vickers Reports. A new watchdog group, the Campaign for Accountability, filed a similar motion. The motions are set for a hearing on Thursday (18).

The Guardian believes public disclosure would “serve the compelling public interest,” specifically whether Adelson “has used money acquired through criminal activity in Macau casinos to make campaign contributions to candidates for public office.”

Adelson and his wife Miriam are expected to be among the single largest contributors to Republican causes during the 2016 presidential election cycle and Democrats would love to tie Republicans to Asian crime lords, if only to counter all the talk about Hillary Clinton taking millions from the Chinese government.