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

Robert Schram, here seen in January 2016, died Saturday, according to a friend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sidney, Saanich Peninsula mourn the death of Mr. Beads

Bead artist Robert Schram was a familiar, well-loved figure in Sidney and beyond

Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the Land Conservancy, Paul Nursey CEO of Destination Greater Victoria and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice helped to kick off the annual Greater Victoria Flower Count at Abkhazi Garden Monday. This year, the flower count is less about rubbing the region’s weather in the rest of Canada’ faces, and more about extending a bouquet of compassion and love. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
2021 Greater Victoria Flower Count sows seeds of compassion

Friendly flower count competition runs from March 3 to 10

Paul Lewis is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Local Hero as Arts Advocate of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore driftwood sculptor inspired by Esquimalt Lagoon

Paul Lewis is the 2021 Arts Advocate of the Year

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

Most Read