A CBC News investigation has sparked renewed calls to overhaul casino operations and tighten provincial regulations to curb suspected money laundering on some of B.C.'s most popular gaming floors.
In just over three months this spring, almost $27-million worth of suspicious cash transactions were documented by just two Lower Mainland casinos — the River Rock in Richmond and the Starlight in New Westminster.
Ed Rampone, former head of casino investigations with the province's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, says there's little doubt the suspicious cash flowing through casinos is gang money.
"This is money laundering happening through your casinos," Rampone told CBC News Friday. "It's eye-opening and shocking to see the volume that it's reached."
Documents gathered through an Freedom of Information request revealed that many of the transactions flagged by staff at the River Rock and Starlight casinos this spring involved large quantities of smaller bills — often in denominations of $20 and $50. The RCMP have said in the past that such small denominations are the currency of the drug trade.
Despite the presence of dozens of cameras recording the comings and goings and more than 500 reports noting the flow of suspicious cash, police were never called.
All this comes three years after a previous CBC News investigation revealed $8 million in suspicious transactions were documented in a similar three month period. Following that news in 2011, the B.C. government reviewed casino operations and launched an anti-money laundering strategy.
But Rampone says little seems to have changed.
"The failure to do anything about it and just continue to rubber stamp this and pass it on as intelligence — it's bordering on negligence," he said.
Rampone said people bringing in large quantities of unsourced cash need to be stopped and challenged immediately, if not by casino security then by police, who should be assigned to gaming centres.
"They ought to be turning [the money] away and not dealing it away the same way that the banks turn it away at the cash wickets," he said. "Ask some questions of these individuals, and, if need be, intercept that currency."
Casinos still deal mostly in cash: lawyer
Casinos remain predominantly a cash business in B.C., according to Christine Duhaime, a lawyer with expertise in anti-money laundering measures.
Duhaime added that no obvious police involvement does not mean there are no current investigations, but she believes a greater police presence on the gaming floors would go far to deter crimes.
Dr. Garry Smith, a University of Alberta researcher who studies gambling-related crime, said the sheer volume of documented suspicious transactions seem to indicate B.C. needs to do more to deter criminal activities at casinos.
"I'm sure they could be doing more than they're doing," he said. "If there's still suspicion about where this money comes from, then they contact police. So far they're not doing that."
The B.C. Lottery Corp. told CBC News that no one has been convicted of money laundering through operations that it licenses. It also said that anyone buying chips or credit with cash and then quickly cashing out at a B.C. casino is returned the same cash denominations. If a cheque is issued, it is marked that the funds are not gaming winnings.
B.C.'s Finance Ministry, which receives gaming funds from its private casino partners, also defended its efforts to curb money laundering in casinos by pointing to the shift to electronic options, such as patron gaming-funds accounts, to discourage the use of large amounts of cash.
As a sign of success, the ministry said there were nearly 9,800 non-cash transactions totalling $18,158.390 in the last six months. It noted that's a large jump from the 50 non-cash transactions recorded in 2012, when the program was put in place.
CBC Vancouver's award-winning team of investigative journalists break stories that matter to British Columbians.
We continue to find stories you won't see anywhere else. We dig deeper and go further to find the truth.
Help us expose corruption, government waste and threats to your safety. Tell us if you know about something we should be investigating.
We're always looking for stories.
Send your confidential tips to firstname.lastname@example.org