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Local News

Gaming Control Board joins probe of money laundering in Nevada casinos 

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Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
April 22, 2024

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has remained awkwardly silent on the investigation of Las Vegas casinos and the prosecution of casino executive Scott Sibella by federal officials out of California, has joined the ongoing probe, according to two sources who say they’ve received calls from investigators. 

The federal investigation, first reported by the Current in August, landed the GCB in a pickle. 

A year ago, Gov. Joe Lombardo’s new appointee to the Control Board, George Assad, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the allegations “against Resorts World and its president, Scott Sibella, were found to be unsubstantiated.”

Less than six months later, in August 2023, federal investigators issued a subpoena to Resorts World for records of cash and wire transactions, among other things. The company fired Sibella a month later, saying he violated company policy. Resorts World has not been charged with any crimes. 

In January, Sibella entered a plea agreement, admitting to one count of violating the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) that requires financial institutions, including casinos, to report large or suspicious cash transactions.  

Sibella failed to report that illegal bookmaker Wayne Nix paid a marker at the MGM Grand with $120,000 in cash in 2018. In 2022, according to the plea agreement, Sibella told unidentified law enforcement agents he “heard that Nix was in the booking business” but didn’t want to know the source of his money. “I stay out of it. If we know, we can’t allow them to gamble.”  

Sibella is scheduled to be sentenced May 8 in California. Nix’s sentencing has been postponed twice – an indication that he is still cooperating with authorities. 

MGM and the Cosmopolitan, where Nix also gambled, entered non-prosecution agreements with the feds and paid a collective $7.45 million fine.  

“It just looks like the GCB had to come out or look totally incompetent,” said Richard Schuetz, a veteran casino executive and former Calfironia gaming regulator who suggests the GCB may intentionally be loosening the lid on its investigation. “It looks like they slept through this.”

The GCB was created in 1955 to regulate Nevada’s fledgling gambling industry and keep the federal government at bay.

A 1985 amendment to the BSA permitted the U.S. Treasury to exempt “casinos in any state whose regulatory system substantially meets the reporting and recordkeeping requirements” of the BSA. Nevada casinos were exempted until 2007, when the state’s Gaming Commission required casinos with annual gross gaming revenue in excess of $1 million to comply with the BSA and its cash transaction reporting requirements. 

Licensees, who are regulated by the GCB, are required to continuously train employees on anti-money laundering protocol.

The GCB has been silent since Sibella’s plea agreement became public in January, with the exception of a statement from chairman Kirk Hendrick, who said the GCB “has been monitoring the situation, and will ensure that all individuals and entities involved in Nevada’s gaming industry are held to the highest standards.” 

Hendrick did not address the disparity in the GCB’s February 2023 conclusion that allegations against Sibella were unsubstantiated and that of federal officials who charged Sibella.  

Regulators did not respond to inquiries from the Current Thursday about the existence of a state investigation. 

“The agent said ‘we have five two-man teams and each team is investigating two to three properties,’” said one source who says he received a call from GCB agents this week.

The source, who has ties to Sibella and illegal bookmakers who gamble in Las Vegas, is cooperating with state and federal authorities and asked not to be identified. “He (the GCB investigator) said they are working in cooperation with the US Attorney and criminal division of the IRS in Las Vegas, and with the US Attorney’s Office out of California, specifically Jeff Mitchell.” 

Mitchell is the U.S. Attorney in the Central District of California who prosecuted Sibella and Nix following an investigation by the Criminal Division of the IRS, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Mitchell is also the U.S. Attorney who last week charged Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani, with illegally transferring $16 million from Ohtani’s bank account to alleged illegal bookmaker and gambler Matt Bowyer. 

The investigation of Nix, Sibella, and his former employers MGM Resorts International and Resorts World, has widened to include other alleged illegal bookmakers, and their patronage of other Las Vegas casinos, which are now of interest to the GCB, according to the sources who were contacted by state investigators.

“They want to talk to Bowyer’s hosts at Resorts World and the Venetian,” the source said of the GCB.

Federal authorities raided Bowyer’s California home in early October of last year, and took his Las Vegas host Jennifer Belcastro’s phone the same day, according to Belcastro. The search warrant for Belcastro, obtained by the Current, was signed by federal Magistrate Daniel Albregts.

State agents reportedly also contacted Bowyer’s host at the Venetian, which is a subsidiary of Apollo Global Management. The resort’s CEO Patrick Nichols, formerly general manager of the Cosmopolitan, has not responded to the Current’s inquiries about the company’s hiring of two former Cosmopolitan casino executives who catered to Nix at that resort and lost their jobs as a result, according to sources at the Venetian.     

A source contacted by the GCB says investigators are also interested in speaking with casino hosts of gambler Damien LeForbes, a customer of both Resorts World and the Venetian. Feds also raided his California home. LeForbes, like Bowyer, continued to play at Resorts World and other casinos after news of the federal investigation became public, and the feds had subponaed Resorts World, the source says. 

LeForbes told the Current he is being represented by Las Vegas criminal attorney David Chesnoff. Chesnoff, who is a concessionaire at Resorts World, did not respond to requests for comment about the potential conflict of interest, given his business interest at the hotel.   

Another source with ties to Resorts World who asked not to be identified for fear of legal jeopardy, says the GCB reached out for an interview last week. The source said colleagues at Aria and Venetian also received calls from the GCB. 

“I believe they are doing a little cosmetic work,” Schuetz says of the GCB investigation. “They’re having to make a little effort to save face.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.