Iowa law-enforcement and gambling officials say they are paying more attention to the practice of drug dealers laundering large and voluminous bills through unwitting casinos.
"Certainly we recognize it's the nature of the business that for anyone who gets illegal proceeds, there's a likelihood they'll spend it in the gaming facilities," Steve Bogle, assistant director for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, told The Des Moines Register.
The newspaper's copyright story Monday also reported that it is difficult for casinos to decide what is suspicious behavior, given the amount of money moving through the operations legally.
"With the amount of traffic we see, it's not unusual to see people coming in with $5,000 or $6,000," Bogle said. To pursue federal charges of money laundering or state charges of criminal conduct, an officer would need to be able to prove that the money came from an illegal source, he said.
The DCI, which places officers at the casinos, has handled about 150 drug cases at the state's gambling facilities since 1999.
"We've known drug dealers to frequent casinos," said Mark Hein, the Des Moines resident agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"When you think about it, you've got some money in your pocket or you're making money off drugs, it'd be a good place to go and hit a jackpot and have some `legitimate' money," he said.
Dexter Temple, a confessed former drug dealer from Davenport, told the Register that he used a local casino to break large bills that could have attracted attention if used at other businesses or that might have been marked by undercover drug officers.
He said he always avoided transactions over $10,000, which require certain paperwork.
"I always had this feeling that I've got this (drug) money and I've got to account for it," said Temple, 39, who has served 19 months in Iowa prisons for burglary and a probation violation. He also has been undergoing treatment for drug and gambling addictions.
"I'd take it down to the boat, gamble and win money or lose money and, with the money I got back, I felt safe taking it to the bank."
Last year the federal government, concerned that criminals might be using casinos more frequently to launder money, made a new form available for casinos to use in reporting any suspicious activity involving amounts over $5,000.
This year, the Internal Revenue Service, which investigates money laundering, held a training session at the Illinois Gaming Board's facility in Chicago regarding tracking suspicious activity at casinos.
"Part of it was a reminder to watch for ... people tailoring transactions so they were just under $10,000," said Jim Wagner, deputy administrator with the Illinois Gaming Board.