Québec to Launch Investigation Into Possible Money Laundering at State-Owned Casinos

  • Finance Minister Girard announced an upcoming independent audit of publicly owned casinos
  • Local news reported that one casino offered criminal figures red-carpet treatment pre-pandemic
  • State-owned provincial casinos operator Loto-Québec clarified facts relating to the allegations
  • It said it received a FINTRAC fine for not reporting a suspicious transaction at Casino de Montréal
  • Similar investigations have been taking place in the Canadian province of British Columbia
judge's gavel, handcuffs, and Canadian 50-dollar notes
Québec authorities will be launch an independent investigation into allegations of criminal activity and money laundering at local casinos. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Independent audit operation

The Canadian province of Québec is launching an independent audit to investigate the possibility of money laundering and other criminal activities at publicly owned casinos. Québec Finance Minister Eric Girard announced the move on Monday. 

An external auditor will head the investigation into four local casinos operated by the state corporation Loto-Québec. As well as looking at money laundering and criminal practices such as loan sharking, the audit will review the loyalty programs at the casinos to make sure they are not rewarding gamblers who earn money from illegal activities. 

Casino de Montréal “rolled out the red carpet” for organized crime bosses

The catalyst for the operation came in the form of local news reports claiming that one government-run property, Casino de Montréal, “rolled out the red carpet” for organized crime bosses pre-pandemic, awarding them VIP comps like free meals, show tickets, and hotel rooms.

Loto-Québec clarifies facts

Loto-Québec – which operates the casinos in the province, including Casino de Montréal – issued two statements about the recent allegations and subsequent inquiry.

On December 1, it clarified some facts in response to the publication of relevant articles in Le Journal de Québec and Le Journal de Montréal. The statement outlined the reasons why the operator had received an administrative penalty from the Financial Transactions and Report Analysis Center of Canada (FINTRAC) in 2012, following a compliance review. One of the failings observed was that the casino operator had not reported a questionable transaction at the Casino de Montréal to FINTRAC.

Another review FINTRAC conducted in 2016 did not find any deficiencies within Loto-Québec. It determined that the operator had taken the necessary steps to address the previously highlighted failings.

After Loto-Québec legally challenged the findings of the initial review in court for a number of years, FINTRAC revised the financial penalty in March 2020 to CA$147,015 (US$113,625). Loto-Québec paid the penalty, stating that it wished to have a collaborative relationship with FINTRAC in its money laundering crackdown. Details of the fine remained confidential until November 6.

Last week, the corporation said it is actively working to combat money laundering, and that it has procedures in place to ensure that it complies with all relevant regulatory requirements.

What local news reports said

Local media published reports about the alleged links between Québec casinos and organized crime in recent weeks. French-language news channel TVA reported that Montréal mob boss Stefano Sollecito was one of the top ten gamblers at the Casino de Montréal, spending as much as CA$2.5m (US$1.9m) in 2014 and 2015. 

The newly announced inquiry is the latest money laundering scandal involving Canadian casinos. There have also been extensive investigations in British Columbia regarding the alleged use of local casinos for money laundering purposes.