NBC4 Investigates: Criminals Use Ohio Casinos For Money Laundering

NBC4 Investigates: Criminals Use Ohio Casinos For Money Laundering (Image 1)

Ohio casinos are raking in more than $13 billion since opening in 2012, while paying gamblers about $10.5 billion in winnings.

You walk inside knowing it’s a game of chance, but NBC4 investigates how criminals are beating the odds, laundering money illegally inside the state’s four casinos.

Hollywood Casino in Columbus is the newest casino in Ohio, but it’s also happening in Cleveland and Toledo.

Criminals walk in with dirty money, then walk away clean.

Most of the time, it’s a sure thing.

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“It’s terrorism financing. It could be tax evasion. It could be drug money. It could be any number of things,” said Frederic Gushin, of Spectrum Gaming Group.

It’s being accomplished through money laundering.

Criminals can take dirty money into the casino, buy a chip, and gamble with it. If the criminal wins, they cash in their winnings and get clean dollar bills with a different serial number that they can say they received legitimately.

In April, Columbus police officer Steve Billups was sentenced to more than four years in prison for his role in a scheme with the notorious Columbus gang, the Short North Posse.

Investigators claim Billups was helping the gang launder money at the Hollywood Casino.

There are movements on two laws to reign in the illegal practice. Both would require casinos to keep a closer eye on high rollers.

Where is a patron’s money coming from?

LINK: Monthly Casino Revenue Reports

It’s similar to the laws requiring banks to report suspicious transactions.

Casinos already have regulations on the books, but the laws would take it deeper.

One is a federal law, and last month, it was discussed at the Mid-America Gaming Congress that was held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus.

“If a patron’s betting activities were suspicious, the casino has an obligation to report that,” Gushin said. “For example, someone cashing out $9,500 several days in a row, that would be a suspicious transaction.”

The other is a state law and would be the first in the country.

Ohio Sen. Jim Hughes, of Columbus, is the co-sponsor of Senate Bill 141, which would put a patron who was convicted of laundering money into prison for a year on their first offense.

LINK: Casino Tax Distributions

That would also help crack down on what are called “smurfers,” the countless friends and cohorts who take money into the casino to switch it out, often at such a low amount that most would never notice it.

“It’s a necessary tool we need to have to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Hughes said.

Just because one group was caught, doesn’t mean the practice has stopped.

“They would take their laundered money, take $9,000 and what they would do is play a couple rounds in terms of blackjack or whatever they’re playing out there, and then cash it in and taking it in there and then when they get it back, it’s clean,” Hughes said.

The federal law is expected to take probably another year to become finalized and formalized.

The state law will likely go through a few more changes before becoming law. The law also holds casino operators more liable if someone is using the casino to launder money, and if there is evidence that the casino or people working there were involved, or ever should have known about it.

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