MGM Ditches Cash At Poker Tables

March 16th, 2015 | by Jason Reynolds
Bellagio, Las Vegas.

The Bellagio, home of high-stakes cash poker, but its chips-only at the table from April 1. (Image: Wikipedia)

MGM Resorts has announced that it will no longer allow players to sit with cash at its poker tables. The casino giant will go chips-only from April 1 across all its major properties, including those that are known for hosting high-stakes cash games, such as the Bellagio and ARIA.

While the company has offered no specific reason for the change in policy, it’s likely to be a compliance issue related to anti-money laundering directives; currently the poker table is the only place in a casino where money can be wagered without it first being converted into chips, thus bypassing the casino’s audit trail. From now on all transactions will be recorded at the cage.

The move is likely to be related to demands from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that casinos comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to aid the government in the prevention and detection of money laundering.

The Act requires casinos to report transactions of more than $10,000 per day, per individual, to authorities, and the use of cash  at the poker tables may well hamper the practical appliance of this rule.

Casinos A Decade Behind

Fred Curry, a partner in Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, said recently that casinos are a decade behind other financial businesses in their compliance with the Act. “Casinos should be working now to get ready for the FinCEN announcement and improve their anti-money laundering programs,” he said.

Casinos are also concerned that they may soon be required to divulge the sources of their high-rollers’ gambling bankrolls in in accordance with the Act, a development that they fear will disrupt the traditional relationship between a casino and its VIPs and dent revenues.

In 2013 Las Vegas Sands Corp was forced to settle for $47.4 million with federal authorities for failing to sctutinize the activities of one of its high rollers, Chinese-Mexican businessman Zhenli Ye Gon. Ye Gon, a regular at the Venetian who gambled some $84 million at its tables, was arrested in 2007 on charges of international drug trafficking.

Player Reactions Mixed

Meanwhile, the reaction of poker players on forums to the MGM announcement have been mixed; some felt it was a good thing, as it eliminated the possibility for the use of counterfeit bills in games, as well as some types of angle-shooting, such as a player concealing bills in his stack .

Others pointed out that that such angle-shooting was so rare as to render it irrelevant in the discussion and that it was just as easy to hide big chips as bills. Most felt that the convenience of cash-play was good for the game and were concerned that its absence from the table would deny tourists a quick “reload button.”

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