One of the last bastions of cash in the casino will soon be a chips-only affair.
OPR has learned that, effective April 1st, MGM Resorts properties will no longer allow cash to play on poker tables at its major properties across the U.S..
Impacted poker rooms include: ARIA, Bellagio, MGM Grand Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, Monte Carlo, The Mirage, Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss., and MGM Grand Detroit.
MGM has only confirmed the change and has not articulated a motivation behind the new policy.
But I’d guess that the policy primarily has to do with closing a potential leak on the compliance side – specifically in the area of anti-money laundering (AML) efforts.
Poker is unique in the modern casino, as it’s one of the few ways that money can be wagered without being first converted into chips or credits.
In practical terms, it’s the only way you could legally win (or lose) large amounts of cash at a casino without ever entering into the auditable financial flow of the casino.
The volume of the conversation regarding the role of casinos in AML efforts has been steadily increasing over the last year.
One recent tipping point: a June 2014 speech from Jennifer Shasky Calvery, Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN).
Shasky Calvery’s speech was understood by many to be a warning to the industry, a call for proactive AML measures as opposed to reactive approaches.
MGM’s decision could certainly be read as aiming toward that end.
Poker wasn’t a focus of Shasky Calvery’s speech – the word didn’t appear once – but recent events may have pushed the potential risks associated with the game to the forefront of concerned executive’s minds.
Only weeks after Shasky Calvery’s comments at the 2014 Bank Secrecy Conference in Las Vegas, a federal grand jury handed down indictments related to an alleged sports betting operation run by guests out of Caesars Las Vegas during the World Cup.
That investigation would eventually expand to brush against the worlds of high-stakes live poker and money laundering.
OPR understands that other major live poker rooms in Las Vegas are likely to follow the lead of MGM in implementing this policy, although their time frames may not be as aggressive, and universal adoption is unlikely in the near-term.
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