Friction Around BCLC Laundering Probe

A few months ago we covered the announcement that River Rock casino would undergo a laundering probe after a string of large cash bets caught the attention of officials from British Columbia’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. Now, through an act all of their own, the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation has provoked some more suspicion in their direction. Upon being asked to disclose communications that took place with the BC Lottery Corporation over the last 5 years, Great Canadian said it would comply at a cost of over $500,000. This gesture is considered extreme and has been interpreted as an attempt to hinder questioning into the organization’s operations.

River Rock Casino

River Rock Casino

The Freedom of Information (FOI) request came from the casino workers’ union Unite Here. Marc Hollin, on behalf of the union, asked that Great Canadian send documentation of the last five years of communication between Great Canadian and the BCLC. This request was submitted as part of the laundering probe.

In response, the lottery’s freedom of information analyst sent over a memo stating that the work would take an estimated 16,817 hours to complete, resulting in the total cost of $504,480. The BCLC also asked that at least half of the sum be paid upfront.

Hollin responded, “I was shocked and surprised by BCLC’s outrageously high fee estimate for our Freedom of Information request. We believe in the public’s fundamental right to have access to information from our governments, including access to documents relating to anti-money laundering compliance in Canadian casinos.”

The BCLC, along with Attorney General David Eby, the minister responsible, have refrained from sharing any specific details regarding the response to the request.

“When BCLC receives FOI requests that are broadly worded and would require extensive time, … our FOI team has a duty to assist and works with FOI applicants to try to clarify, refine and narrow the request to conduct a more targeted search to locate the information that the applicant seeks, before assessing a fee,” a statement from the BCLC read.

So, maybe FOIs by big companies actually cost this much? Turns out they usually don’t. Advocate for governmental transparency, Victor Gogolek, says that although Unite Here’s FOI request is broad and asks for information from a long period of time, the fee still seems large.

He explained, “”I’m not sure how much information you’re putting together to justify a bill of that size. How many records are we talking about? Of course, we don’t know.”

Gogolek said that the fee “raises suspicion”. “When you’re going to charge someone half a million dollars for a request, the message is, you can request it, but get ready for a battle. That shouldn’t be the way it is”, he said.

Legally, the BCLC can charge for any FOI that demands more than 3 hours of work to produce. The clause being part of British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act.

There is still a chance for the BCLC to waive the fee. A move like that would show more of a readiness to cooperate with the laundering probe. Both Hollin and Gogolek are hoping that the BCLC waives the fee, but if they don’t, by law the request for information can be demanded without pay. In this case, it has to be shown that the case is a matter of public interest.

Unite Here has two options at this point. The union can appeal for the fee to be waived, or for it to be recalculated in the hopes that it is reduced.

In any case, we hope that the relative organizations will show cooperation. Laundering in casinos has been a source of worry over the years, and it will be good to make sure that the industry isn’t harmed by operations of this kind.

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