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Casino expansion at B.C. Place may lead to increase in organized crime activity, sources say

Solicitor General Rich Coleman (left) listens during a May 2010 press conference to Premier Gordon Campbell in a photograph from B.C. Government website.  Coleman dissolved the RCMP's Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team on April 1, 2009. In 2006, the IIGET had warned of casinos' "extreme vulnerability" to money laundering.

Before it was disbanded last year, the RCMP's Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) gave a number of warnings about the presence of organized crime at casinos in the Province. Now, as Vancouver prepares for public hearings on the BC Place casino - set to be the province's largest - the now-defunct unit's warnings are spurring questions about a potential rise in criminal activity and the ability of police to cope.

In a 2009 report obtained by The Vancouver Sun through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the IIGET warned of casinos' "extreme vulnerability" to money laundering. Many investigations across Canada have found that members of organized crime use casinos for criminal purposes, the report states. A separate internal assessment, obtained by the Globe and Mail through a FOI, advised that Hells Angels members had, in some cases, succeeded in infiltrating the province’s “legitimate gaming operations."

The 12-member IIGET was dissolved on April 1, 2009 by then-Housing Minister Rich Coleman. He said the the team, which cost $1 million a year, was not cost effective.  Coleman is now Solicitor General. He failed to respond to VO's repeated requests for an interview.

In an interview with Public Eye several months later, IIGET's former commander Fred Pinnock said his team should have been watching what was happening in legal gaming facilities, instead of focusing their energies on illegal operations. "For the police not to have well-resourced law enforcement units dedicated to casino environments is very short-sighted in my opinion," he said.

Pinnock's former colleague Sgt. Randy Mortensen, who now works with the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Unit, said that a mega-casino at BC Place might lead to a rise in organized crime.

"Studies have shown that organized crime will try to infiltrate casinos in many different ways, whenever they’re expanding," Morstensen said.

The government should look at taking a portion of the revenue and putting it into policing to combat organized crime, he said.

It was "unbelievably irresponsible" for the government to disband the IIGET, a source who asked to remain anonymous told VO. "Monitoring and surveillance of organized criminal activity in casinos and illegal gambling operations is a highly specialized skill."

It involves intelligence, undercover infiltration, wiretap evidence, monitoring and investigation of suspicious "flags" and signifiers, and strong internal communications and coordination between affected police units and prosecution teams, the source explained.

As the system works now, crimes are reported to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the Solicitor General through a reporting process in the casino and by BCLC, Morstensen said. They are referred to the police jurisdication where the crime occured.

The problem is that these jurisdictions do not have the resources to deal with this level of crime, the source claimed.

The VPD's anti-gang specialist was away at the time of publication and could not be reached for comment.

Depending on the nature of the crime, the RCMP may be called in to assist.

Sgt. Shinder Kirk of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – Gang Task Force, said that casinos do tend to attract the criminal element. His force has been called to Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations, which is being relocated and expanded at BC Place.

But Sgt. Kirk said there was no way of knowing whether or not the larger casino would lead to an increase in organized crime.

"I don’t have a baseline to speak to that particular issue," he said.

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