A River Rock Casino manager tried to “smooth things over and avoid calling police” when a VIP gambler who delivered massive revenue to the casino sexually assaulted a staff member, B.C.’s inquiry into money laundering heard.
It was the second day of examination for Great Canadian Gaming’s acting CEO Terrance Doyle at the Cullen Commission, which is mandated to determine whether corruption enabled B.C. casinos to launder money.
Commission lawyer Alison Latimer read a March 2017 email from BC Lottery Corporation investigator Ross Alderson to Doyle, which said River Rock was an outlier of non-compliance among B.C. casinos and had “multiple significant compliance concerns since October 2015.”
River Rock’s non-compliance centred on allowing high rollers to bend rules around massive cash transactions and inappropriate behaviour, Latimer suggested to Doyle.
The concerns outlined by Alderson and others included:
- River Rock failed to report 266 suspicious transactions, because staff chose not to report cash transactions of under $50,000 as suspicious;
- River Rock failed to identify 29 large cash transactions;
- River Rock was deciding to cash out high-limit baccarat players with high-denomination bills after they bought chips with small bills, which raised money laundering concerns, known as “refining” or “colouring up” of currency.
“Do you believe that this is another example of River Rock’s non-compliance with anti-money laundering measures?” Latimer asked Doyle. “You didn’t consider there was a concern with refining or colouring up?”
Doyle said he didn’t see a concern because River Rock staff determined the high rollers that bought their chips with $20 bills and were paid out with $100 bills, were not gambling in suspicious manners.
The inquiry heard more about a River Rock VIP-room manager named Lisa Gao, and her relationship with Li Lin Sha, a high roller that made 450 large cash transactions at Lottery Corp. casinos. The inquiry has heard Sha — who claimed to be a coal miner — was one of the biggest VIPs in B.C. casinos, and B.C. gaming enforcement branch investigator Derek Dickson complained about Sha’s suspicious cash transactions starting in 2010.
However, the Lottery Corp. and casino management brushed off concerns about Sha and other VIPs, arguing that Mainland Chinese high rollers had a cultural preference for bulk cash casino transactions.
According to Dickson, the inquiry has heard, suspected drug-money laundering from China increased exponentially from 2010 and was forecast to reach about $200 million per year in 2014 in B.C. casinos. Dickson testified that Lottery Corp. managers took no action against suspected drug-cash laundering until a major RCMP investigation was reported to them in July 2015.
According to Alderson’s report to Doyle in March 2017, Li Lin Sha and Lisa Gao went out drinking together in early 2016 and when they returned to the River Rock VIP room Sha sexually assaulted another staff member. Gao made sure that police were not called and Sha continued to gamble after the assault, according to Alderson’s report.
Doyle said when managers became aware of the assault “the next day there was more harsh reaction.”
Doyle said he was aware that Gao was being monitored by the Lottery Corp. for several questionable VIP relations incidents, including a second drunken assault on River Rock staff, when Gao facilitated a $200,000 money laundering transaction for a banned River Rock Casino VIP, in September 2017. Gao was allowed to continue working but closely monitored, Doyle said. And the Gaming Enforcement Branch eventually de-registered Gao.
Prior to her termination, there was another incident involving Gao according to a report — Latimer said — that “a real bad dude with unsourced” high-value casino chips entered River Rock Casino and “advised Ms. Gao could vouch for him.”
“Were you concerned that River Rock staff were allowing VIPs to bend rules,” in order for Great Canadian to retain business from the patrons, Latimer asked Doyle.
Doyle said whenever staff acted inappropriately, River Rock management took action.
However, in another case River Rock management over-ruled the decision of a surveillance staffer that tried to block a $97,000 cash transaction when a VIP was observed sourcing the cash from a car trunk outside the casino, the inquiry heard.
In that case, a review later found management was mistaken, Doyle said.
In another case, a review by Canada’s anti-money laundering agency Fintrac found 80 per cent of River Rock Casino staff had insufficient understanding of money laundering regulations, Latimer said.
According to Doyle, the finding was due to a language barrier. And Doyle said he disagreed with Alderson’s finding that River Rock was involved in significant non-compliance after October 2015. Doyle said issues at River Rock identified by Alderson were due to miscommunication among staff and Great Canadian’s regulators and the Lottery Corp., not non-compliance.
He said that Great Canadian’s former CEO Rod Baker and its board, which includes Senator Larry Campbell, took compliance at River Rock very seriously.
“This by no means, was any intentional way of trying to circumvent money laundering rules,” Doyle said.
The inquiry continues.