British Columbia’s crackdown on casino money laundering may have simply pushed the problem eastward, according to new data from Ontario casinos.
On Wednesday, Global News reported that the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had recorded 2,266 suspicious transaction investigations at local casinos in 2018, around 140% more than the 945 investigations conducted at casinos in 2017. Data through the first seven months of 2019 show 1,327 such investigations, on pace to match or beat 2018’s total.
Chief Supt. Bill Price, who heads up the OPP’s casino investigations unit, said the rise in number of investigations is partly a reflection of the OPP taking a greater interest in potential casino money laundering. But he acknowledged that money launderers may have transferred their activity to Ontario after BC imposed tighter restrictions on its casino sector in January 2018.
BC’s new rules followed a seemingly endless flood of reports of truly sketchy oversight at major casinos, most notably at the River Rock Casino Resort in Vancouver. That casino’s day-to-day operations are overseen by Great Canadian Gaming Corp (GCG), which also provides management for casinos in Ontario.
One of those GCG-managed Ontario operations is Casino Woodbine, which added its first live table games in September 2018. The OPP’s Price said Woodbine’s addition of table games had changed “the dynamics” of the situation, allowing for “larger transactions that automatically occur that should generate suspicious transaction reports.”
Woodbine filed eight such reports in 2017, rising to 58 in 2018 and hitting 76 in just the first seven months of 2019. GCG issued a statement saying its obligation was “to adhere to all mandated rules and regulations, and even exceed those requirements to ensure a robust [anti-money laundering] regime is followed.”
The Cullen Commission, British Columbia’s inquiry into the scope of its casino money laundering problem, is scheduled to get its first phase underway on February 24, although the main hearings won’t come until September.
The Commission’s final report isn’t expected until May 2021, and while it lacks the authority to determine liability – even in the most egregious shortcomings in governmental oversight – it will issue recommendations on how to manage the problem going forward. (A truly independent gambling regulator will be a start.)