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HomeBusinessCasino workers were intimidated by loan sharks and uncaring management, union president tells money laundering inquiry

Casino workers were intimidated by loan sharks and uncaring management, union president tells money laundering inquiry

Bob Mackin

A B.C. public sector union head told the Cullen Commission into money laundering that frontline casino workers will offer both historical and contemporary evidence about troubles in the province’s gambling industry.

“Workers in some casinos have faced a visible organized crime presence in their workplaces for more than two decades. Some have dealt with harassment and intimidation from known criminals and/or associated VIP gamblers,” testified Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, on Feb. 24. “All too often, casino management has turned a blind eye to these issues, or in some cases even enabled them, in order to maintain and grow their business.”

Stephanie Smith (BCGEU)

BCGEU represents workers at River Rock, Hard Rock, Starlight, and Grand Villa casinos. Smith told the inquiry, overseen by Justice Austin Cullen, that Muriel Labine, a dealer, supervisor and hostess between 1992 and 2002, will testify when witnesses are heard after Labour Day.

Smith said Labine witnessed loan-sharking activity on the gambling floor at Great Canadian Gaming’s Richmond casino and even a casino vice-president acting in a friendly manner towards a Big Circle Boys kingpin, top casino loan shark and violent drug trafficker.

“Higher stakes, high-turnover games brought in more VIP gamblers and dramatic increases in cash flow, with thousands of dollars being played in a single five-minute game. Men [Labine] learned had gang affiliations would bring clients and sit with them at the tables, passing players casino chips and bundles of $20 bills,” Smith said. “Loan sharks soon became fixtures in her casino, working up to 12 hours per day, with dozens of loan sharks on the casino floor at once. Their presence was so ubiquitous that staff came to know their faces and street names.”

Labine was eventually fired after bringing her concerns to management, which is why Smith said B.C. whistleblower protection laws need beefing-up and expansion to cover private sector workers.

Smith said money laundering grew as regulation withered, pointing to the 2009 disbanding of the RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team (IIGET), the decisions in the Ministry of Attorney General in 2013 to ignore internal reports of large-scale money laundering and the 2014 decision to fire, without cause, a Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch employee who blew the whistle. She also hopes the relationships between private gambling operators and provincial and municipal elected officials, including lobbyists and political donors, will be investigated.

Smith said Labine will not be alone in testifying. Despite progress under the NDP government since 2017, Smith said the early days of implementing new anti-money laundering measures have had mixed results and current workers will elaborate.

Inside the Cullen Commission hearing room (Mackin)

“Our members report that, in many cases, management are simply going through the motions of compliance with AML measures while making clear to employees that these measures are unwanted requirements that are the fault of regulators or even the employees’ union.”

Meanwhile, the vice-president of security fired by B.C. Lottery Corporation last July has been cleared of wrongdoing by GPEB.

Robert Kroeker’s statement to the Cullen Commission said that GPEB found Nov. 1, 2019 that allegations against him were unfounded. Kroeker intends to “defend against an anonymous and malicious claim that he instructed staff at BCLC to ‘ease up’ on anti-money laundering measures and ‘allow dirty money to flow into casinos’.”

“We expect the Commission will find that throughout, Mr. Kroeker has acted with integrity and in full cooperation with the province and the regulators,” said his lawyer, Christine Mainville. “He has discharged his compliance duties on behalf of BCLC honourably.”

Kroeker spent almost three years as an executive at Great Canadian Gaming before joining BCLC in 2015. Kroeker’s submission said that GCGC and BCLC were at the forefront of preventing money laundering and detecting illegal networks operating with proceeds of crime.

“We are confident that by the end of this process, the public will be fully informed,” Mainville said.

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