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B.C. gaming officials flag unusual betting by 'housewives' in casino review

A patron walks into the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. in 2015.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

People identifying their occupations as "student" or "housewife" make up an unusually large share of B.C.'s high-rolling gamblers, prompting B.C.'s Attorney-General to question the source of millions of dollars flowing through the province's casinos.

Gaming officials audited a year's worth of transactions at a single casino – Richmond's River Rock Casino – looking for patterns that could shed light on money laundering by organized crime.

B.C. requiring casinos to track high-roller spending in bid to crack down on money laundering

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Among the report's findings were housewives whose bets were flagged as unusual because of the amount of cash they were bringing in, sometimes with stacks of bills in small denominations. One student alone bet $819,000 over the course of the year.

"The conspicuous thing about students and housewives is that these are groups of people who don't have any source of income," Attorney-General David Eby said in an interview.

"So for people who don't have any apparent source of income showing up and playing with large amounts of cash, it seems to me this should have been a red flag," he said.

"It's incomprehensible to me why that didn't result in further investigative work, and attempts to ensure that people demonstrated where they got the money from," Mr. Eby said.

"We are doing that now, asking 'where did you get this box of cash from?' – literally a box, or a duffle bag, of cash."

The report from the compliance division of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, publicly posted on the B.C. government's open information website following a freedom of information request, looked at transactions in the year 2015.

It shows that members of the real estate industry topped the list of occupations for River Rock's top gamblers. A total of 135 individuals working in real estate spent more than $53-million at the casino that year.

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Housewives, the sixth-largest group on the list of occupations, placed more than $14-million in bets. Of those housewives betting more than $50,000, 87 per cent of those transactions were flagged as unusual.

There were 36 students who placed $2.3-million worth of bets.

The review examined whether the stated occupation of patrons at River Rock's high-limit tables "could reasonably support" their level of gambling.

The auditors also looked at the 52 companies listed by patrons who bet $1-million or more, to determine if those businesses could legitimately provide the income needed to gamble at that level. The findings were inconclusive, because most of the companies are based in China and the names provided to the casino were difficult to track.

Mr. Eby has promised to crack down on money laundering in B.C. casinos, saying the previous Liberal government was reluctant to turn down the taps on a significant source of government revenue generated by casinos. He has acknowledged that his efforts will likely reduce the $1.3-billion that flows annually to the treasury.

Last fall the Attorney-General retained an independent expert, Peter German, to look into money laundering in casinos. Mr. German has since confirmed there are large, suspicious cash transactions washing through casinos in the Lower Mainland. But the scale of the problem and the extent it reaches into the wider economy – such as real estate, drug trafficking or tax evasion – are still under investigation by Mr. German, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada.

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Mr. Eby said the large number of high rollers who list real estate as their occupation jumped out at him, noting that he has asked Mr. German to examine if there is a connection between money laundering and the real estate sector.

In December, responding to interim recommendations from Mr. German, Mr. Eby promised to boost the presence of government regulators in the eight largest casinos in the Lower Mainland, and to impose new requirements for high rollers to disclose the source of their money.

As well, Mr. Eby has announced changes to give the BC Lottery Corp. more authority to ensure compliance and security, including new powers to directly impose fines on casinos that fail to enforce the new anti-money-laundering directives. Officials with the Lottery Corp. said Monday the new requirements will be phased in this year as existing service agreements with casino operators expire.

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