Jim Lightbody. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. Lottery Corp. CEO ‘blown away’ by police report of organized crime at casinos

Jim Lightbody says the corporation did everything in its power to mitigate risk of money laundering

The president of the British Columbia Lottery Corp. says the first time he officially heard organized crime groups were laundering money at provincial casinos was six years ago during a meeting with the RCMP.

Up until the 2015 police briefing, there had long been concerns about suspicious cash circulating at casinos but the RCMP report confirmed it, Jim Lightbody told an inquiry into money laundering on Thursday.

“That was a pivotal moment for us because we had now heard from the RCMP… that there are proceeds of crime being used through a money service business in Richmond,” Lightbody said. “That alarmed me greatly. I was blown away.”

Lightbody testified the report prompted the lottery corporation to step up its anti-money laundering efforts in 2015, which included requiring some players to disclose the source of their cash and banning others from the facilities outright.

“We were all shocked at this,” he said. “We said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’ “

The lottery corporation — which has a mandate to manage and safeguard casinos — implemented a policy in 2018 saying players wanting to buy in at a casino with $10,000 or more in cash must prove where the money came from.

But the inquiry heard prior to 2015 it was not uncommon for people to arrive at B.C. casinos with bags containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20 bills.

The provincial government called the inquiry after a 2018 report by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German concluded organized crime groups used B.C. casinos to launder illegal cash obtained through drug sales and other illicit activities.

RELATED: Ex-lottery VP testifies money laundering ‘politically charged,’ gets emotional

German said the crime groups loaned their illegal cash to players who would gamble at the casinos and later repay the criminals with the money they received after cashing out.

Lightbody said when people arrived at casinos with large bags of cash, suspicions were aroused, but the corporation previously allowed it because many high-spending patrons frowned upon using cheques, drafts or having specialized credit accounts at casinos for privacy and cultural reasons.

“These are people who first of all have a real concern about their privacy and they have a real concern about ‘government’ knowing how much money they have, and so using methods like cheques and other things like that aren’t things that they are necessarily drawn to,” said Lightbody.

Commission lawyer Patrick McGowan questioned Lightbody about whether players with large amounts of cash should have been asked more detailed questions about the origin of their money.

“Wasn’t really the obvious question, not how did they make their money but where did the $200,000 in $20 bills in the grocery bag they just put on the counter come from?” asked McGowan.

Lightbody said the players may have kept the cash in a bag as a disguise before entering the casino.

“It was a real eye-opener for a lot of us into this culture of wanting to use cash, especially for things like gaming that some people may see as a sin,” he said. “They don’t want, maybe, certain people in their family knowing that they are using and spending that amount of money.”

READ MORE: Inquiry hears money laundering concerns at B.C. casinos rose as 2010 Olympics neared

Former gaming investigator Larry Vander Graaf, who is also a former Mountie, told the commission last November the B.C. Lottery Corp. did not move quickly enough to protect the integrity of gaming from organized crime more than a decade ago.

He said suspicious cash started to appear at B.C. casinos in 2007 and by 2010 loan sharks were circulating nearby parking lots with bags of money believed to be from proceeds of crime.

Lightbody, who’s currently on medical leave from his position, said the lottery corporation did everything within its powers to mitigate the risk of money laundering.

The province appointed B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen in 2019 to lead the public inquiry into money laundering after three reports, including two by German, outlined how hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash affected the real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Victoria filed a petition with the Supreme Court of B.C. March 2 to have it clarify whether, under the Trustee Act, Beacon Hill Park can be used for temporary sheltering. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria asks court to clarify if Beacon Hill Park can be used for sheltering

City of Victoria filed petition to Supreme Court of B.C. March 2

The application proposing to rezone Western Speedway was passed by Langford’s planning, zoning and affordable housing committee Feb 8. A petition has since been started by residents of Trudie Terrace, hoping to stop the proposed residential portion of the development plan. (CBRE Victoria)
Petition opposing Western Speedway development proposal gains steam

Save Thetis Heights Neighborhood petition aims to stop extension of Trudie Terrace

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

Boma Brown won the Emerging Leader Award for her work founding the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Courtesy of Boma Brown)
Victoria SNIWWOC founder up for national women’s award for volunteer efforts

Victoria’s Boma Brown is a semi-finalist in the running for the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth award

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Most Read