A majority of B.C. voters believe the provincial government should call a public inquiry into circumstances that enabled money laundering to occur at B.C. Lottery Corp. casinos, according to a new poll.
Mario Canseco, who conducted the poll for Research Co., said results showed that B.C. voters closely followed reports on allegations of international money laundering in Metro Vancouver casinos, after Attorney General David Eby in September 2017 launched an independent review.
Eby said the review was needed because an audit of River Rock Casino, in Richmond, revealed tens of millions in suspicious cash transactions.
Canseco’s poll asked respondents what measures they would support to tackle casino money laundering, and whether voters would support a public inquiry.
The fact that about three out of four respondents said they support a public inquiry stood out for Canseco. He said he had expected, at most, 50 per cent of respondents would support such a measure.
“I think there is an appetite to find out who is responsible and to look at the political system,” Canseco said. “For some of the things we learned in the reports, there has to be a system in place that allows people to exploit the situation. People want to look at the chain of command involved in setting out guidelines for gaming in B.C.”
News reports pointed to alleged large-scale laundering of suspected drug cash in B.C. casinos, through international VIP gamblers and high-limit betting rooms.
Canseco said shocking details in reports — such as revelations that chip purchases of about $500,000 with no known source of funds were occurring, and gamblers were allegedly lugging cash into Vancouver casinos in hockey bags — apparently grabbed the attention of “voters of all stripes.”
The RCMP is still investigating a major case with suspected connections to international organized crime groups and VIP gamblers recruited from China and Macau. And recently, in a separate case, the RCMP announced charges and the pending deportation of an international VIP with links to River Rock Casino, Las Vegas, Macau, China and Australia, where the gambler was suspected of laundering about $850 million through casinos.
Across B.C., 40 per cent of poll respondents said the B.C. government “definitely should” launch a public inquiry into casino money laundering. And 36 per cent said the government “probably should.”
Nine per cent said they were “not sure,” while 10 per cent said the government “probably should not” hold an inquiry and 5 per cent said there should “definitely not” be an inquiry.
Support for the public inquiry includes 83 per cent of British Columbians who voted for the BC Green Party in last year’s provincial election, 78 per cent of those who supported the NDP, and 69 per cent of those who voted for the B.C. Liberals.
In response to calls for a public inquiry, Eby has so far argued that a report from his independent reviewer, Peter German, should be sufficient to tackle B.C.’s casino money laundering problems. Eby’s office is currently reviewing recommendations in the report filed by German, a former high-level RCMP officer.
German’s report is expected to be released publicly within weeks.
Canseco’s poll also covered what sort of recommendations voters would support to tackle casino money laundering.
Voters were asked if they support a ban on “high-limit” table games, where VIPs can bet more than $10,000. A majority of voters would support the ban, with 48 per cent showing “strong support” and 20 per cent showing “moderate support.”
If such a ban were approved, it would lead to a significant revenue decline in B.C. casinos.
Another proposed measure — forcing gamblers to declare the source of any cash over $10,000 deposited at a casino — was even more popular, with 67 per cent of poll respondents strongly supporting the measure, and 19 per cent moderately supporting it.
Another poll question points to a 2015 public-health report from B.C.’s provincial health officer, which showed that after legalized gambling was expanded in B.C. from 2001 to 2007, severe gambling addiction problems surged by 140 per cent, and that problem gamblers generally incur increased medical costs.
Given these findings, respondents were asked whether “pending gambling developments should be postponed so that more research can be conducted on their benefits and drawbacks?”
In response, 25 per cent said B.C. “definitely should” postpone new gaming developments, and 37 per cent said the government “probably should.” Only seven per cent of respondents said B.C. definitely should not postpone new gambling developments.
The poll results come from an online survey conducted with 800 B.C. adults at the end of May. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.