When a VIP gambler who provided huge income to the casino sexually assaulted a staff member, B.C.’s inquiry into money laundering heard, a River Rock Casino manager attempted to “smooth things over and avoid calling police.”

It was the second day of examination for Great Canadian Gaming’s acting CEO Terrance Doyle at the Cullen Commission, who is required to decide if corruption allowed B.C. casinos for money laundering.

Commission lawyer Alison Latimer read an email from investigator Ross Alderson of BC Lottery Corporation to Doyle in March 2017, which said River Rock was an outlier of non-compliance among B.C. casinos and had “multiple significant compliance concerns since October 2015.”

Latimer suggested to Doyle that the non-compliance of River Rock focused on allowing high rollers to bend rules around massive cash transactions and improper behavior.

Alderson and others’ issues outlined included:

  • -266 suspicious transactions were not reported by River Rock because staff decided not to report as suspicious cash transactions of under $50,000;
  • -29 significant cash transactions failed to be identified by River Rock;
  • -After buying chips with small bills, River Rock decided to cash out high-limit baccarat players with high-denomination bills, which raised money laundering concerns, known as currency “refining” or “colouring up.”

Latimer asked Doyle that “Do you believe that this is another example of River Rock’s non-compliance with anti-money laundering measures? You didn’t consider there was a concern with refining or colouring up?”

Doyle said he didn’t see a problem because the high rollers who bought their chips with $20 bills and were paid out with $100 bills were not gambling in suspicious ways, as River Rock staff determined.

The inquiry heard more about Lisa Gao, a River Rock VIP-room manager, and her relationship with Li Lin Sha, a high roller at Lottery Corp. casinos that made 450 large cash transactions. The inquiry heard that Sha was one of the biggest VIPs in B.C. casinos who claimed to be a coal miner. Derek Dickson, branch investigator for gaming enforcement, complained about Sha’s suspicious cash transactions beginning in 2010.

However, concerns about Sha and other VIPs were brushed off by the Lottery Corp. and casino management, claiming that Mainland Chinese high rollers had a cultural preference for bulk cash casino transactions.

According to Dickson, the investigation has heard that China’s alleged drug money laundering increased exponentially from 2010 and was estimated to hit around $200 million annually in B.C. casinos in 2014. Dickson testified that until a major RCMP investigation was reported to them in July 2015, Lottery Corp. executives took no action against suspected drug cash laundering.

Li Lin Sha and Lisa Gao went out drinking together in early 2016, according to Alderson’s March 2017 report to Doyle, and when they returned to the River Rock VIP room, Sha sexually assaulted another member of the staff. According to Alderson’s report, Gao made sure that police were not called and Sha continued to gamble after the assault.

Doyle said that “the next day there was more harsh reaction,” as managers became aware of the assault.

Doyle said he was aware that the Lottery Corp. was monitoring Gao for several suspicious VIP relations incidents, including a second drunken assault on River Rock staff, when Gao facilitated a $200,000 money laundering transaction in September 2017 for a banned River Rock Casino VIP. Doyle said Gao was permitted to continue working but was closely monitored.  And the Gaming Enforcement Branch eventually de-registered Gao.

According to a report, Latimer said before her termination, there was another incident involving Gao 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 River Rock management took action if staff behaved improperly.

In another case, however, the management of River Rock over-ruled the decision of a surveillance staffer who tried to block a $97,000 cash transaction when a VIP was observed sourcing the cash from a car trunk outside the casino, the investigation heard.

In that situation, Doyle said, a review later found management was incorrect.

In another case, a review by Canada’s anti-money laundering agency Fintrac found that 80 percent of staff at River Rock Casino had insufficient knowledge of the laws on money laundering, Latimer said.

The finding, according to Doyle, was due to a language barrier. And Doyle said that he disagreed with Alderson’s finding that after October 2015, River Rock was involved in major non-compliance. Doyle said Alderson’s identified issues at River Rock were due to miscommunication between staff and Great Canadian regulators and the Lottery Corp., not non-compliance.

He said former Great Canadian CEO Rod Baker and its board, which includes Senator Larry Campbell, have taken River Rock compliance very seriously.

“This by no means, was any intentional way of trying to circumvent money laundering rules,” Doyle said.
The inquiry continues.