New laws to target casino chip gangsters - Saturday 12th of March 2005

New laws are being planned to stop gangsters from possessing bulk quantities of casino chips and using them to launder money from their illegal drug operations.

State Crime Command detectives will meet the Casino Control Authority to discuss ways to clamp down on drug traffickers washing their cash at gaming tables and in high rollers' rooms.

Eventually, crime figures cash in their chips in return for a casino cheque which they can pass off to the Australian Taxation Office as tax-free winnings.

Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec of the crime command's casino investigations unit gave three recent examples of gaming chips found outside a casino:

 December 2004, when police executed a search warrant on the home of a criminal and seized more than 400 grams of heroin, almost $90,000 in cash and $20,000 in casino chips;

 September 2004, when two Thai nationals were intercepted on arrival into Australia with $75,000 worth of Australian casino chips hidden in their luggage; and

 July 2003, when a person found to be dealing in drugs to support a heroin habit was found in possession of casino chips.

Police Minister Carl Scully foreshadowed new laws making it illegal to carry large denominations of gaming chips outside a casino.

"Drug dealers and other criminals prefer to carry gaming chips rather than large amounts of cash," he said. "If questioned by police, they can claim the chips are casino winnings."

Under new laws, he said, the onus would be on the person to explain that the chips they were carrying were not the proceeds of crime.

The most valuable casino chips in Australia are worth $10,000 while plaques - which are bigger than credit cards and used in high roller rooms - are available in denominations between $20,000 and $1 million.

Superintendent Kerlatec said the law changes were not aimed at gamblers who might take home a pocketful of chips after a winning night.

"We are really targeting the link between money laundering and drug trafficking," he said.

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