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Dirty money fears at casinos overblown: former BCLC president

Revelations in the media earlier this month that gamblers in B.C. casinos are exchanging hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash for betting chips raised suspicions among law enforcement authorities that the gaming centres are lax about preventing money laundering.

But Guy Simonis, BCLC president from 1985 to 1999, said he is skeptical about some of the concerns, and that people with “too much money” are being forced to carry in bags of bills when they should be allowed to buy chips with credit or bank debit cards.

“How do they know it was money laundering?” he said. “The only reasonable way they can do it is to change all the money into chips, and play for 10 minutes, then come back with $100,000 worth of chips, and say ‘I quit.’ To sit at a table and play and lose half of it doesn’t seem to me a very smart way of laundering money.

“At the $1,000 level it works just fine. One could come in with $1,000 of dirty money, buy some chips, you look around for five minutes, even play a little bit, then come back and cash your $900 of chips, and you could explain how you got the $900. But you can’t do that with $100,000.”

Today at casinos such as River Rock, one may buy chips only with cash, or an authorized chequing account. “Some people have too much money, and if they want to play with a lot of it, they have no other choice but to bring in the cash,” Simonis lamented. “Maybe it’s time they allowed credit cards and Interac for buying chips.”

The CBC reported that “in documents filed with the B.C. Lottery Corporation in late 2010, the Starlight Casino in New Westminster and River Rock Casino in Richmond reported a multimillion-dollar increase in large cash transactions from May to early August. The transactions included a combined total of $8 million in 90 large cash transactions - an average of one a day.”

Despite repeated requests, BCLC did not respond to Tyee queries on what, if anything, it has done to reduce the problem.

Stanley Tromp is a Vancouver-based reporter.

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