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Former Great Canadian Gaming managers admit company pushed back on investigations of high-rollers

Click to play video 'Former Great Canadian Gaming executive and manager testify at Cullen Commission' Former Great Canadian Gaming executive and manager testify at Cullen Commission
A former manager and executive from Great Canadian Gaming took the stand at the Cullen Commission into money laundering at B.C. casinos. John Hua reports – Jan 25, 2021

Former managers at Richmond’s River Rock casino acknowledged that company executives complained about investigators probing foreign high-rollers for suspected drug-cash transactions, B.C.’s money laundering inquiry heard Monday.

The inquiry has already heard that Asian-organized crime used loan sharks inside several Vancouver-area casinos — especially River Rock Casino — to provide “VIP” high-rollers from China with suspected drug cash to buy casino chips. And investigators believed the VIPs would often pay the gangs back in China.

According to B.C.’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch, the suspected drug-money laundering from China increased exponentially from 2010 and was forecast to reach about $200 million per year in 2014.

Former River Rock Casino compliance manager Robert Kroeker and former general manager Rick Duff both testified Monday that Great Canadian Gaming managers didn’t want B.C. Lottery Corp. staff to question high-rollers from China about where they got their massive cash supplies.

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Read more: Gangs made B.C. casinos too dangerous to investigate for money laundering, inquiry hears

“They didn’t want action taken that would needlessly drive the customer away,” Kroeker said.

Kroeker said he became aware a notorious loan shark named Paul King Jin was banned from River Rock Casino in 2012, but that Jin continued to provide cash to VIPs at the casino.

Kroeker was asked by a lawyer for the Cullen Commission, which is mandated to determine whether corruption allowed money laundering to take root in B.C. casinos, if he gave his staff directions to turn away the VIPs funded by Jin.

“I didn’t give any direction,” Kroeker said. “If (the cash) was knowingly coming from someone that was outside (the casino), it should have been refused.”

Duff said growth of the Chinese VIP market in Vancouver casinos started around 1997, at the time that China’s government took over Hong Kong. He said he and a Great Canadian executive named Walter Soo worked together to build River Rock’s VIP business.

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Shocking new Cullen Commission testimony about gang activity in B.C. casinos – Jan 22, 2021

Duff said River Rock’s VIP room staff would get to know VIPs intimately, including taking them out for dinners and gifting them concert tickets. As VIP bet limits in River Rock Casino approached $100,000 per hand, the market drove 50 per cent of the casino’s revenue, Duff said.

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Duff admitted that he clashed with Lottery Corp. investigators Mike Hiller and Ross Alderson over their questioning of VIPs receiving funds from loan sharks, or their desire to interview certain VIPs believed to be laundering massive amounts of $20 bills.

For example, Duff said he recalled telling Alderson in 2012: “I thought your job was to report (suspicious transactions) and let the real police investigate.”

And Duff said he argued with Hiller when Hiller banned a particular high-roller. But Duff said he didn’t recall telling Hiller that he would change River Rock Casino’s surveillance practices if the Lottery Corp. continued to probe high-rollers.

Duff was also questioned about a Lottery Corp. review that showed he went out for dinner with a female patron involved in suspicious transactions. The woman had already been observed receiving $50,000 in cash in a casino washroom from a person previously banned as a loan shark, commission counsel Patrick McGowan said.

Read more: B.C. money-laundering commissioner rebukes Ottawa for failing to provide important records

She then left River Rock to dine with Duff, and he dropped her off back at the casino. She exited his vehicle with a purse that contained $50,000 in cash. She then used the cash to buy casino chips.

“It was out of the ordinary for me and I attended his office and asked him about it,” Lottery Corp. investigator Steve Beeksma testified previously. “The integration of an unusual transaction, and (the casino manager’s) vehicle being seen … he put himself in a pretty precarious position.”

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Duff told the inquiry that he did not see the woman receive $50,000 in cash at dinner, and he was not aware that she planned to use the cash at River Rock Casino.

“I recall driving (the female patron) back to the casino after dinner,” Duff testified. “I don’t recall her purse, or what was in her purse.”

In his testimony, Kroeker — who left Great Canadian Gaming to become a Lottery Corp. compliance director in September 2015 — suggested that B.C. Attorney General David Eby had politicized the B.C. government’s independent review of casino money laundering.

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Former high-ranking police officer testifies at Cullen Commission – Dec 2, 2020

Kroeker’s testimony continues Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Great Canadian Gaming’s president Rod Baker announced his resignation Monday. Baker was previously named in the inquiry as a Great Canadian executive that allegedly complained to the Lottery Corp. about investigators questioning VIPs at River Rock Casino.

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Baker, 55, and his wife, Ekaterina Baker, 32, were ticketed and charged in Whitehorse on Thursday for breaking Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act.

The couple were required by territorial law to isolate for 14 days upon arrival, but allegedly took a private plane to the remote community of Beaver Creek to receive the Moderna vaccine.

They each received two $575 fines for failing to self-isolate and failing to behave in a manner consistent with their declaration, according to the tickets filed in the court registry and provided to Global News on Monday.