British Columbia to (finally) get independent gambling regulator


british-columbia-independent-gambling-regulatorBritish Columbia’s casinos may be in for much tougher scrutiny now that the provincial government is splitting the gambling monopoly’s enforcement arm from its operational side.

On Thursday, BC Attorney General David Eby announced plans to establish a new Independent Gambling Control Office (IGCO) by spring 2021. The IGCO will replace the Gaming Policy & Enforcement Branch (GPEB), the currently toothless body that’s supposed to keep tabs on the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the government agency that controls the province’s gambling sector.

Previously, the GPEB had a dual role of establishing and policing gaming rules while simultaneously advising the province on gaming-related business matters. That’s problematic, as BCLC is a major contributor to the province’s budget – over C$1.4b (US$1.07b) in fiscal 2018-19 – and thus turning the regulatory screws too tight can negatively impact the government’s ability to pay for things.

This dual role was flagged as a major conflict of interest in Peter German’s report on the money laundering scandal that plagued the province’s land-based casinos a few years ago. German’s report recommended the establishment of a truly independent regulator with “the power to enforce regulations against the most significant entity in B.C.’s gaming environment.”

It remains to be seen whether the IGCO will prove any more capable of reining in BCLC’s excesses. After all, however ‘independent’ they may appear, the IGCO members will still be drawing a government paycheck, and with BC’s biggest casinos struggling under their new ‘source of funds’ requirements, how long before someone suggests, you know, lightening up a little?

Earlier this week, Canada’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) issued an operational alert regarding the use of bank drafts at BC casinos by so-called ‘money mules,’ defined as “an individual who, wittingly or unwittingly, transfers or transports proceeds of crime on behalf of a criminal organization or money launderer.”

FINTRAC, which has been concerned by the generally slack anti-money laundering compliance at BC casinos for years now, warned operators to be on the watch for clients who deposit a “high volume” of bank drafts to their casino accounts or regularly use bank drafts for gaming buy-ins.

FINTRAC has a number of other recommendations that it wants all casinos, not just those in BC, to follow. It will be up to the IGCO to inform us whether or not BC’s casinos – day-to-day operation of which BCLC farms out to private firms, such as Great Canadian Gaming Corporation – actually change their wicked, wicked ways.