Some concerning data was revealed last week regarding Ontario casinos, as it was reported that in 2022, they recorded over CA$372 million in suspicious transactions. The news triggered some alarms among critics, who said that the provincial government needs to address the issue immediately, in an attempt to keep dirty money out of the local and regulated gambling sector.
According to the freedom information requests recently made by a local media outlet, in 2022, land-based gaming properties in Ontario clocked around CA$372 million in suspicious transactions. The figure was significantly lower than the annual ones of 2020 and 2021 when casinos were closed for a while, but it is some CA$38 million higher than pre-closure operations.
NDP critic for the Attorney-General, Kristyn Wong-Tam, said the volume of transactions was a major alarm for the province and insists more needs to be done to address the problem. One of those transactions includes a case of more than CA$4 million made over several years by Branavan Kanapathipillai. He made a large cash buy-in at Pickering Casino Resort in 2022, which was reported by staff.
It was reported that Mr. Kanapathipillai made 10 transactions in the range of CA$50,000 to CA$100,000. However, the source of the cash was unknown, and it was unusual for an individual to hold such a large amount of cash. But despite the suspicious volume, the casino still accepted the money. The same thing was done by at least three other casinos since 2016.
In response to that, Mr. Kanapathipillai explained that the money was from a third mortgage, however, he did not show up in court last week to restate it. Meanwhile, Ontario gambling officials say that the case is a sign that the system put in place to monitor suspicious cash transactions is operational and is allowing law enforcement to track down the money.
A spokesperson for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said the matter was the result of an investigation conducted by the OPP Investigation and Enforcement Bureau rooted to the AGCO. The representative said that as an embedded body, the police bureau which specialized in money laundering and related investigations is unique to the province in comparison to other jurisdictions in Canada.
Auditor General’s Report
This is not the first time, that the issue of potential money laundering across casinos has been raised. In December 2022, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk published a report giving recommendations to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation on doubling down efforts to tackle money laundering. She stated the volume was relatively low but it varied across different sites.
In addition to that, in her report, she discovered that online sports betting on OLG’s online platform was flourishing. However, most of the players did not utilize its many responsible gambling features such as time and spending limits. The use of the player casino loss limits tool dropped from 33% of active players in June 2017 to 11% of active players in June 2022.
Source: Woodward, Jon “Ontario casinos recorded $372M in suspicious transactions last year. Some critics call for urgent action” CTV News Toronto, April 29, 2023