British Columbia, Canada is looking to take a big bite out of organized crime in the province’s casino gambling industry with a new task force designed to focus solely on the detection and prevention of illegal activities, especially money laundering .
On Monday, Finance Minister Mike de Jong and Public Safety Minister Mike Morris made the announcement that a new 22-member team of law enforcement agents was being assembled. According to Mr. De Jong, the task force will begin with a 5 year commitment, budgeted at $4.3 million per year, and will include a dedicated group of inspectors from B.C.’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch.
Mr. Morris has high expectations for the new casino gambling crime team, as it will be provincially empowered and funded. The previous task force assigned to organized crime in the casino market was federally authorized and funded with just $1 million per year, and failed to integrate successfully with local authorities, said Morris.
B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, geared specifically towards the eradication of organized crime, will head up administration of the new team.
According to Kevin Hackett, COO of the CFSEU, the issue of illegal activities in the province’s casino gambling industry is so complex that it will require the cooperation of international authorities.
In 2011, provincial officers teamed up with the federal government to initiate restrictions on how money is to be handled in casino and gambling facilities. Specifically, tracking was required on all cheques issued by casinos to patrons who walked into the establishment with cash.
Under the new terms, cheque tracking will be fortified and reports must be filed when a patron exchanges small bills for larger notes. Additionally, anyone who shows up brightly enough on the team’s radar enough to warrant an investigation will be subject to a temporary ban from B.C. casinos.
With the new team in place, “We won’t get people walking into casinos with hockey bags full of cash,” Hackett explained facetiously.
Up until now, enforcement has been remarkably lax, and officials now believe the new task force will be able to better execute anti-money laundering laws, detecting and thwarting organized crime activities more fluently.
The situation came to a head last October when a man was arrested in a Chilliwack casino parking lot. Traffic cops had been tipped off to an erratic and presumably drunk highway driver who hit a concrete barrier, then crossed into a grassy median. Before long, police discovered the vehicle, still adorned with concrete dust and grass, parked in a handicap spot of Chances Casino with the dome light on.
They confronted the vehicles owner, a small-time landscaping business owner named Michael Mancini, who was walking towards the casino with over $3,000 cash in his hands. He was also carrying a cheque from Lake City Casino for $13,250, which he claimed was the result of just one of his “lucky” slot machine jackpots, totaling near $300,000 since March 2015.
Assuming probable cause, the officers searched his vehicle and found several more casino cheques worth over $15k combined, more than $10k in cash in the center console and a banded roll of a hundred $20’s in the trunk. After obtaining a search warrant, further inspection of the vehicle brought forth $24,405 hidden beneath a stereo speaker, a large bottle of prescription pills and several rocks of crack cocaine under the driver’s console and a stash of unidentified drugs beneath the driver’s side floor mat.
Despite the mounting evidence that pointed towards his life as a criminal, exchanging ill-gotten cash for cheques at casinos across the province, Mancini denied all allegations of money laundering and claimed he was nothing more than a lucky guy who hit a lot of slot machine jackpots.
The incident triggered a review of the procedures taken by the B.C. Lottery Corp and casino gambling establishments across the region from officials who were shocked such activities had never been reported to local authorities. It eventually led up to yesterday’s announcement of the new task force.