TORONTO -- Ontario's Opposition is calling on the government to halt a deal with a gaming company that runs a British Columbia casino alleged to have accepted millions that could be proceeds of crime.
The B.C. government has launched an independent expert's review of the province's policies in the gambling industry after concerns were raised about the possibility of money laundering at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C.
That casino is run by Great Canadian Gaming Corp. (GC.TO), which the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. selected in August -- along with Brookfield Business Partners LP (BBU-u.TO) -- to run facilities at Woodbine, slots at Ajax Downs and the Great Blue Heron Casino in the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli said Monday the province should halt the deal while it gathers all the facts about the situation in B.C.
"I think our main impetus is to ensure integrity in the industry," he said. "We're asking them -- halt right now while we gather the facts. I think that's the prudent thing to be doing."
Premier Kathleen Wynne said OLG has strict anti-money laundering provisions, but Ontario is watching developments in B.C.
"I think it raises questions, which is why the minister has spoken with OLG and we will be paying very close attention to it," she said.
Great Canadian Gaming said it has ensured that regulatory compliance procedures are strictly followed, and it is committed to preventing illegal activities at all of its locations.
"Contrary to suggestions otherwise, to our knowledge our company is not under investigation in any jurisdiction," chief operating officer Terrance Doyle said in a statement. "Our employees followed all procedures required of them by BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), none of our employees are facing charges, nor we do not believe our company's actions would give cause to initiate any investigation."
OLG noted that Great Canadian Gaming is not under a criminal or regulatory investigation in either province and is satisfied the company will operate the Greater Toronto Area facilities responsibly.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said it would be "totally inappropriate" for a minister such as himself to get involved and expressed confidence in OLG's procurement process.
"The Opposition are inferring criminality but that is not the case," he said. "It's a stretch to start to suggest that somehow the province of Ontario should retract from a legitimate operation and a legitimate contract because of some inference that happened two or three years ago that is being reviewed under due process."
B.C.'s attorney general has said he launched the probe after reading a report about the casino accepting $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015 that police said could be proceeds of crime involving Asian VIP clients.
A July 2016 report commissioned by the province's previous Liberal government said single cash buy-ins in excess of $500,000 with no known source of funds were accepted at River Rock. Law enforcement intelligence indicated the money may have been "direct proceeds of crime," the report said.
The head of Great Canadian Gaming said it initially detected suspicious activity at the casino in 2012 and that its ongoing monitoring and reporting to the B.C. Lottery Corp. was crucial to identifying the individuals allegedly involved.
In Ontario, Great Canadian Gaming and Brookfield won the exclusive right to operate the Toronto-area facilities for a minimum of 22 years. OLG said in its procurement process that it was looking for up to 5,000 electronic games and up to 400 gaming tables for the Woodbine facility in northwest Toronto, and the city of Toronto has granted conditional approval for such a casino.
The Woodbine, Ajax Downs and Great Blue Heron locations have a total of more than 4,000 slot machines, 60 table games and employ more than 2,200 people. Great Canadian Gaming would operate the facilities and hold a 49 per cent stake in the partnership.
The company has 22 gaming properties including 14 casinos, four racetrack casinos, three community gaming centres, one commercial bingo hall and resort hotels in Richmond, B.C., and in Moncton, N.B.