Chips are down as casinos declare war on money launderers

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CASINOS are to spearhead a new government-backed attack on money laundering by criminals who pose as gamblers.

The plans have been drawn up by the British Casinos Association with encouragement from the Treasury's anti-money laundering team, and are designed to install the same systems in casinos by the autumn as in banks and building societies.

But the casinos will be operating their new rules voluntarily after liaison with the Treasury and the Gaming Board.

Financial institutions are the target of tough new criminal penalties - under legislation that came into force last month - if they fail to report suspected money laundering by criminals. Laundering is a way of converting the money into apparently legal funds.

Treasury officials said casinos were tightening up procedures for identifying customers and their guests. These would include updating records by rechecking identities.

There will also be full records of transactions. And casinos will tackle a common money laundering technique of buying large numbers of gambling chips with illegally acquired cash and asking for the balance back as a cheque at the end of the evening.

Croupiers and floor staff will also be trained, like bank staff, in how to spot money laundering and each casino will have a reporting officer as a point of contact with the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which co-ordinates the fight against money laundering.

Treasury officials said that although casinos were not covered by the new legislation the Gaming Board kept them on a tight rein and would close down any that refused to put proper systems in place.

It also emerged that the number of reports by financial institutions of suspected money laundering rose last year by 13 per cent to 12,736 after more than doubling the previous year.

The campaign has turned Britain into a net exporter of cash. Criminals are taking money out of the UK in suitcases to launder it abroad, whereas until recently they were bringing it in, to launder in UK banks. But Britain has not yet adopted the US technique of sniffer dogs at airports trained to smell money rather than drugs.

The casinos' plans emerged as Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, opened a meeting in London of an inter-governmental task force against money laundering.