Casino ups ante in fight over info
Court action seeks to block release of government papers to Postmedia
The corporation that operates River Rock Casino in Richmond has filed a last-minute court action seeking to block the release to Postmedia News of government documents concerning allegations of money laundering in B.C. casinos.
The documents were scheduled to be disclosed to Postmedia on Tuesday under B.C.’s freedom of information laws. However, a petition filed by Great Canadian Gaming Corp. on Nov. 9 in B.C. Supreme Court asks a judge to bar any further document disclosures related to Postmedia’s freedom of information request until a complaint filed by Great Canadian to B.C.’s Office of Information and Privacy is investigated.
Great Canadian claims that it was not given proper notice by the provincial government or the chance to argue against the release of information that it claims is confidential to its business operations. The petition also asks a judge to reverse a previous decision by the privacy commissioner, in which the commissioner allegedly refused to order B.C.’s Ministry of the Attorney General to halt scheduled document releases to Postmedia.
Great Canadian’s petition was scheduled to be heard in court on Tuesday. The petition relates to information requests made by Postmedia in May 2017 for B.C. Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch and third-party documents regarding gambling, crime and money laundering concerns in B.C.
Postmedia has already published a number of reports based on the first phase of documents released by the gaming enforcement branch in early October.
Great Canadian’s petition claims those documents already released to Postmedia — and information contained in an audit completed by MNP and released by Attorney General David Eby in September — contain details of the company’s confidential business operations.
“GCGC will suffer irreparable harm if the phase two disclosure is released without (the company) being provided with an opportunity to make the representation it is statutorily entitled to make,” the petition states. “Once phase two disclosure is released to the public, the disclosure of information harmful to GCGC’s business interests cannot be undone.”
“Our interest in filing the suit is simply in ensuring that the FOI legislation is appropriately followed before information is released publicly ... the initial FOI package contained confidential information regarding GCGC and its business operations,” Great Canadian spokeswoman Sonja Mandic said in an email Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Attorney General stated: “Government is working with our legal counsel to review the suit filed by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation . ... In terms of the release of information, the government will defend and act on the public’s right to as full information as is legally possible on the alleged money laundering connected to B.C.’s gaming industry.”
Eby has said he launched an independent review of money laundering concerns in B.C. casinos after reading information in MNP’s report, which alleged River Rock Casino accepted $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015 that police believe could be proceeds of crime. The cash was mostly used by VIP gamblers from China, the MNP report said. A review of B.C. casinos continues, a ministry spokesperson said Tuesday.
Great Canadian’s petition says its lawyers wrote to the ministry Oct. 23 asking no further documents be disclosed under Postmedia’s freedom of information request until the company could review the documents and argue its opinion.
On Oct. 7, Postmedia reported documents released under freedom of information revealed in 2016 then-finance minister Mike de Jong was warned River Rock Casino was allegedly under-reporting suspicious and large cash transactions “contrary to federal regulations and BCLC policy.”
The documents also showed B.C.’s government was warned in April by the gaming enforcement branch that the presence of organized criminals in B.C. casinos is “a viable threat to public safety.”
And on Oct. 16, Postmedia reported River Rock Casino knowingly accepted millions in suspicious cash that was provided to VIP gamblers by lenders who were banned from B.C. casinos, according to allegations in an internal audit.
The audit and other gaming enforcement branch documents, released to Postmedia through freedom of information requests, also said that a review of play at high-limit tables at River Rock concluded a money-laundering process known as “refining” — which may allow gamblers to buy chips with wads of street-used $20 bills and cash out with neat bundles of $100 bills suitable for banking — was believed to be occurring.
Once ... released to the public, the disclosure of information harmful to GCGC’s business interests cannot be undone.
On Oct. 20, Postmedia reported executives with Great Canadian Gaming Corp. met B.C. Lottery Corp. managers in 2014 to discuss safety concerns presented by a high-stakes gambler who bought chips at River Rock after receiving a suspicious delivery of $645,000 in small bills, according to documents.
There is no indication of how long the privacy commissioner’s investigation into Great Canadian’s complaint could take to complete.