The latest inquiry of the Cullen Commission heard that two British Columbia casino executives voicing their concerns about revenue drops to the BCLC amidst money laundering investigations by the Crown corporation. The first one was Rob Baker who was not-long ago CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, under which jurisdiction River Rock Casino was investigated for money laundering and tied staff to Chinese crime groups.
From Monday’s hearing we hear from BCLC Chief Operating Officer Brad Desmarais, that back in September 2015, Rob Baker and Vancouver Edgewater Casino executive Michael Graydon, contacted him. Graydon complained about how the negative impact of the investigations and high-rollers questioning, has led to a drop in casino revenue. The RCMP informed the Crown corporation that high-profile Chinese criminals allegedly used drug money to buy chips in the River Rock Casino.
In Desmarais’ testimony, he claims that he was more than aware that the bad publicity hurt all the parties involved, but he was pushing the B.C.’s casino regulator to intervene with the illegal activities committed by high-rolling players on casinos’ premises. Jim Lightbody CEO of BCLC, also testified that previously Rod Baker complained about scaring away high-profile players with source-of-funds questions.
In the inquiry we hear about a River Rock patron who made CA$1.8 million in transactions of small bills in the span of just a week, also casino staff did not report many of the high-rollers transactions. Allegedly, investigator Daryl Tottenham warned Desmarais of the suspicious transactions and Desmarais tasked the casino staff to question the patron about his source of income when he returns. Unfortunately, the casino staff failed to do so.
Another thing we learn from last week’s inquiry states that former CEO of BCLC Graydon pressured casino executives to cover revenue targets if they wanted to receive their bonuses. These warnings allegedly occurred at the same time as the B.C. Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch staff were pushing BCLC officials to intervene with the millions of CA$20 bills that were used by organized crime groups on provincial casino’s territory
The inquiry heard that Desmarais wrote reports on how legitimate underground banking was the source of funds for high-rolling Chinese players and that the large amounts of cash have been often wrongfully associated with organized crime. And that in December 2014, Desmarais held a technical briefing on B.C. to the deputy minister of gaming Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland.
Commission lawyer Alison Latimer questioned Desmarais whether he informed Wenezenki-Yolland his suspicion the underground banking could be the source of high-rollers’ cash. According to Desmarais’ statement, he still believes that most of the high-rolling River Rock casino players were legitimate businessmen and that he is unaware of them being funded with alleged drug money.
Inaction from the BCLC
Last week’s hearing of the Cullen Commission we heard that back in August 2015, then-Gaming Minister Mike de Jong sent a letter to BCLC’s CEO Jim Lightbody, consisting of guidelines and measures on how to deal with the overgrowing problem with money laundering activities in the B.C. casinos. Then in October 2015 a meeting between Lightbody and board chair Bud Smith, concluded that such measure will cost the corporation hundreds of millions of dollars of losses.
Current CEO of BCLC Jim Lightbody testified in last week’s hearing of the Cullen Commission, that he was stunned when the RCMP briefed him about alleged money-laundering activities on casinos’ premises. Lightbody also boldly claimed that the Crown corporation had done everything in order to prevent the occurrence of such illegal operations.
Source: Cooper, Sam, “B.C. casino bosses complained that drug-trafficking probes were hurting business: inquiry“, GlobalNews, February 1, 2021