An internal investigation
In 2020, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into international gambling operator Las Vegas Sands (LVS). Through the ongoing assessment, the DOJ hopes to ascertain whether the company’s Singapore casino, Marina Bay Sands, has breached anti-money laundering (AML) controls.
LVS has now launched an internal probe into the casino to assess AML procedures. According to a Bloomberg report on Sunday, the operator has created a special committee to conduct the probe. US law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP will assist this committee, which includes three board members.
retaliation against money laundering whistleblowers
Together, they will investigate the claims which prompted the DOJ investigation. Mainly, this includes the transfer of funds between high rollers and third parties at the casino, in addition to retaliation against money laundering whistleblowers.
Under the microscope
According to Bloomberg, the DOJ issued a subpoena to a former compliance officer at Marina Bay Sands in January last year. Through its investigation, the DOJ said it aimed to investigate the casino’s business with junket operators and VIP gamblers.
The situation worsened for Marina Bay Sands later in the year when VIP gambler Wang Xi filed a lawsuit against the casino. He claimed that Marina Bay Sands unlawfully sent S$9.1m (US$6.8m) of his funds to other guests of the resort in 2015 without his authorization.
Marina Bay Sands ultimately settled Wang’s lawsuit out of court in July last year, agreeing to pay S$9.1m (US$6.8m) to the plaintiff. The case ended with a “non admission” of liability on either side, but it highlighted concerns over a potential abuse of internal financial controls within the casino.
Probe reveals wider transfer issue
As reported by Bloomberg, Marina Bay Sands conducted an internal investigation to assess the extent of the transfer issue following the Wang settlement. It found that employees had moved US$1.64bn worth of funds between gamblers from 2010 to 2018.
allowing gamblers to sign blank authorization forms
Staff members manipulated the internal controls of the casino to transfer these funds. This included allowing gamblers to sign blank authorization forms and filling out transfer amounts at a later date. Some staff members also copied signatures and produced photocopies of the same transfer documents.
According to evidence seen by Bloomberg, the casino has since clamped down on this transfer issue. The number of these transactions fell from 1,011 in 2014 to just six in 2018.
Sands’ new Asia focus
Earlier this month, LVS announced a new focus on the Asian market. The operator has agreed to sell its properties in Las Vegas for a total of around US$6.25bn. This includes the Sands Expo and Convention Center and the Venetian Resort Las Vegas.
Robert Goldstein, group CEO, described the company’s Singapore and Macau developments as the company’s main focus. The executive said LVS aspires to grow through “meaningful opportunities on a variety of fronts.”