Federal and state government agencies in Australia have cracked an alleged syndicate that laundered A$4.7m ($3.2m) in winning cheques bought from slot machine customers, prompting Victoria state’s regulator to warn it has “put the whole gambling industry on notice”.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers raided a business and two homes in southeast Melbourne yesterday (September 6) after a year-long investigation, seizing A$170,000 in cash and gold bullion, including cash hidden inside the walls of one house.
The AFP charged two women and a man with dealing in cash suspected to be proceeds of crime and engaging in conduct relating to money or property suspected to be proceeds of crime, according to a statement late yesterday. The three face up to 20 years in jail.
The statement was jointly issued by the AFP and, unusually, three other entities that assisted in the probe: the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC); national transactions watchdog AUSTRAC; and the National Australia Bank (NAB).
“It is alleged the syndicate laundered millions of dollars in illicit cash through a Springvale licensed gaming venue by buying [electronic gaming machine] jackpots from patrons,” said the statement, adding that the unnamed venue “issued an abnormally high number of cheques”, largely to suspects in the case.
It said that winning cheques would be issued in the name of members of the syndicate, then deposited into a bank.
Annette Kimmitt, chief executive of the newly formed VGCCC, said the regulator “unravelled” the syndicate through its data monitoring before referring the matter to the AFP and AUSTRAC.
“Today we put the whole gambling industry on notice,” she said.
“This operation shows that as a new regulator with stronger powers we are watching the gambling industry closely and we will work with other agencies to actively pursue and shut down criminal activity.”
Kimmitt said the VGCCC’s own 12-month probe into the case is continuing, including into possible criminal activity by the venue and its employees.
The raids are notable for the high degree of technical and logistical cooperation between federal and state authorities into gambling-related crime.
But they are also concerning in particular for Australia’s massive, ubiquitous slot machine industry, whose well-resourced lobby groups have been able to help slot machine outlets withstand substantial regulatory scrutiny until very recently.
Documents leaked earlier this year showed that the head of neighbouring New South Wales state’s gaming regulator, Philip Crawford, complained to state officials that his agency had “very few regulatory levers to pull” with the slots segment.
Crawford now heads that regulator’s likely more aggressive replacement body, the NSW Independent Casino Commission.
A NSW official at around the same time told local media that billions of dollars are being laundered through Australian slot machine venues, matching the frustration of a state assistant police commissioner who had belittled regulatory impacts.
Meanwhile, in Queensland, the Office of Liquor and Gaming has announced a review of the state’s Responsible Gambling Code of Practice, including the use of pre-commitment technology for slot machines as anti-gambling forces increase attacks on the segment.
The review is due to commence this year or early 2023.