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Sibella common thread in state and federal probes of money laundering 

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Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
May 1, 2024

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has been silent since news broke last summer of a federal investigation of Las Vegas casinos and executives, filed a complaint Tuesday against Scott Sibella, the former president of MGM Grand and Resorts World, that mirrors the federal case that resulted in Sibella’s guilty plea in January to one count of violating anti-money laundering law.  

The complaint from state officials comes a week before Sibella is scheduled to be sentenced in a California federal court. He has signed a plea agreement in which he admits to allowing illegal bookmaker Wayne Nix pay a gambling debt at MGM in 2018 with $120,000 in cash, absent the required reporting to federal authorities. 

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’s attorney, John Spilotro, declined to say whether Sibella plans to enter into an agreement with the GCB or fight the agency’s effort to discipline him. “When the time is right, you will know,” he said.

“I think it would have been better had the Control Board been first to market with all of this,” says Alan Feldman, a Distinguished Fellow at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and a former MGM Resorts public relations executive. “But there are any number of situations where the federal government may get to something faster. I don’t think that’s a great look for Nevada, but I don’t think it’s the cause for any enormous concern.”

Former Las Vegas gaming executive and one-time member of the California Gambling Control Commission Richard Schuetz disagrees. “The Nevada Gaming Control Board needs to focus 100% on saving face, because they are destroying the credibility of their ability to regulate this business,” he said in an interview.

The federal probe, jointly conducted by the Criminal Division of the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), like the state investigation, are now focused on other hotels, including Resorts World, according to sources approached by law enforcement and regulators. Sibella was Resorts World’s president and chief operating officer until September 2023, when he was terminated for violating company policy. He remains licensed as its president, according to the Gaming Control Board (GCB) complaint.

The Current reported last week the GCB is interviewing individuals with knowledge of alleged illegal bookmaker Matt Bowyer’s gambling at Resorts World and other casinos. Bowyer, whose California home was raided last October by the same federal authorities who investigated Sibella, has admitted through his attorney to taking bets from Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter of baseball star Shohei Ohtani. Mizuhara is alleged to have stolen $16 million from Ohtani’s bank account in order to fuel his gambling habit. 

Mizuhara, according to an affidavit signed by Chris Seymour of the Criminal Division of the Internal Revenue Service, was in debt to Bowyer for tens of millions of dollars and was sending weekly payments of $500,000 in 2023. 

On Tuesday, ESPN reported that Mizuhara wired some of the weekly payments to an associate of Bowyer’s, who sent it to his own Resorts World gambling account. 

A spokesperson for Resorts World noted Mizuhara has never been a patron. “Any relationship between Mr. Mizuhara and these former RWLV customers was entirely unknown to RWLV until these allegations were made public.”

State gaming regulators are said to be inquiring about Sibella’s relationship with Bowyer, according to a source who has agreed to be interviewed by the GCB. Agents may also be re-examining their earlier exoneration of Sibella, according to the source. 

In early 2023, Gaming Control Board member George Assad, newly appointed by Gov. Joe Lombardo, announced an investigation cleared Sibella of allegations leveled a year earlier by gambler and Resorts World vendor Brandon Sattler, who said Sibella was aware of undesirable patrons gambling at the hotel. 

Resorts World hired Los Angeles law firm Bird Marella to conduct an internal investigation. The “scope of inquiry,” according to a document provided to the Current by a source close to Sibella, included whether Sibella provided “any intentionally false or misleading information to the Gaming Control Board” in March 2023, “particularly with respect to questions and answers about Brandon Sattler?”

The law firm also investigated whether Resorts World “engaged with any unsuitable persons or businesses in their lease agreements and/or services agreements,” with Tacos El Cabron and its principals, including convicted illegal bookie and admitted money launderer David Stroj. 

In April 2023 the Current reported Stroj was the manager of the taco stand, which he said was owned by his father. A month later the stand was closed. The Gaming Control Board declined to say whether the taco stand’s closure was related to the state’s investigation of alleged ties between the vendor and Sibella.  

Bird Marella also investigated Resorts World’s relationship with Eight Cigar Lounge owners Joseph Angelo Bravo, a convicted drug trafficker, and Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff.   

The source says the law firm’s report, presented to the GCB as Resorts World’s response to the state’s investigation, cleared Sibella and the hotel of wrongdoing. 

MGM and the Gaming Control Board have been aware of allegations against Sibella since at least 2019. 

“The governor or the Attorney General should appoint a truly independent group to look at how the Gaming Control Board missed this,” says Schuetz.

Gov. Joe Lombardo did not respond to requests for comment. Attorney General Aaron Ford declined to discuss an ongoing case. 

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.