Casinos and card clubs

Today the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it had fined a California card club, Artichoke Joe’s Casino, $8 million for numerous willful violations of the Bank Secrecy Act occurring since 2009. In its assessment, FinCEN found that during the last eight years, the card club failed to implement and maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and failed to detect and adequately report suspicious transactions in a timely manner. This is the third enforcement action against a card club for FinCEN, the only federal regulator with anti-money laundering enforcement authority over card clubs. Artichoke Joe’s Casino did not consent to imposition of the assessment, which means that the Justice Department must now file suit in federal court to enforce the assessment and collect the penalty amount.

Artichoke Joe’s Casino is located in San Bruno, California, and has been in operation since 1916. A “card club” is a gaming establishment that only offers card games, and most are located in Montana and California. One of the largest card clubs in California, Artichoke Joe’s Casino contains 38 tables offering card and tile games, including baccarat, blackjack, poker, and Pai Gow, and has a history of compliance deficiencies. The Internal Revenue Service, which examines card clubs for compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, conducted an examination in 2015 that identified significant violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. In addition, on May 9, 2011, Artichoke Joe’s Casino entered into a stipulated settlement with the California Bureau of Gambling Control, agreeing to pay a fine of $550,000, with $275,000 stayed for a two-year period, and agreed to modify its surveillance, work with the city of San Bruno to improve coordination with law enforcement, replace employees at the Pai Gow tables, and provide additional training on loan-sharking, illegal drugs, and compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act.

In a press release announcing the assessment, Jamal El-Hindi, Acting Director of FinCEN, said, “[f]or years, Artichoke Joe’s turned a blind eye to loan sharking, suspicious transfers of high-value gaming chips, and flagrant criminal activity that occurred in plain sight. FinCEN’s $8 million civil penalty results from the card club’s failure to establish adequate internal controls and its willful violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. Casinos, card clubs and others in the gaming industry should consider their risk of exploitation by criminal elements, and understand that they will be held accountable if they disregard anti-money laundering and illicit finance laws. This significant action highlights the need for all entities, including those in the gaming industry, to build a robust culture of compliance into their policies and procedures to ensure they are not facilitating illicit activities.”

In March 2011, Artichoke Joe’s Casino was the subject of a raid by state and federal law enforcement which led to the racketeering indictment and conviction of two customers for loan-sharking and other illicit activities conducted at the casino. Senior-level employees knew that loan-sharks were conducting criminal activity through the card club and using gaming chips to facilitate illegal transactions. Nonetheless, according to FinCEN, Artichoke Joe’s Casino failed to file any Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on this activity.

According to FinCEN, Artichoke Joe’s Casino also failed to implement adequate internal controls, which exposed the card club to a heightened risk of money laundering and other criminal activity. In particular, the card club failed to adopt adequate policies and procedures to address risks associated with gaming practices that allow customers to pool or co-mingle their bets with relative anonymity. Further, Artichoke Joe’s Casino did not establish procedures for obtaining and incorporating information from propositional players (players paid by casinos or card clubs to wager at a game) or other employees who may have observed suspicious transactions. The card club also failed to file complete and timely reports on suspicious transactions involving potentially structured chip redemptions and purchases, and redemptions of large volumes of chips with no cash-in or gaming activity.

FinCEN’s action today represents only its third enforcement action against a card club, and its first ever non-consensual card club assessment. Its first action was against Oaks Card Club of Emeryville, California in December 2015. In that proceeding, Oaks Card Club admitted that it violated the program and reporting requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act and agreed to pay a fine of $650,000. In July 2016, FinCEN fined Hawaiian Gardens Casino (also based in California) $2.8 million, which admitted that it violated the Bank Secrecy Act’s program and reporting requirements and agreed to future undertakings, including periodic independent reviews to examine and test its AML program.