Hawaiian Gardens Casino Showcases Renovations Amid Federal Charges

Kelley Pierce
Gardens Casino

After closing for renovations, the Hawaiian Gardens Casino, newly named the Gardens Casino, reopened to showcase the $90 million improvements made to its now 200,000 square-foot location, including a total of almost 300 gaming tables and 220 flat-screen TVs.

Unfortunately, their grand reopening has been plagued with legal troubles as regulators of state gambling work to revoke their license to operate. This follows accusations made by the California Gambling Control Commission officials, stating that the casino operators failed to comply with a federal anti-money laundering law.

According to the allegations, “despite the requirements for full disclosure and reporting, respondents failed to disclose, reveal, or report their admitted violations of the federal Bank Secrecy Act.”

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to support the government in the identification and prevention of money laundering. These accusations, along with the casino’s own admissions to violating state and federal laws have brought their ability to operate lawfully into question.

Moreover, a federal penalty was filed against the Gardens Casino in July 2016, after management admitted to being incompliant with federal laws. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) reports that the Gardens Casino has been in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act for almost seven years, despite two IRS examinations and a consultant’s review highlighting these issues during their period of incompliance.

Acting director of FinCEN Jamal El-Hindi released a statement saying the casino did not support a “culture of compliance required to effectively manage its anti-money laundering responsibilities [and] ignored the IRS findings – and the findings of its own consultant – thus allowing these violations to go on for years.”

One of the issues that arose was the casino’s lack of information on customers involved in suspicious activities. The FinCEN report states that the casino “failed in its responsibilities to use all available information to identify and verify customer information.” In one case, the casino kept no records of a woman’s actual identity though she was referenced in 15 separate reports of suspicious activity.

Casino managers defended their position, stating that they were unaware of their responsibility to prevent customers who refuse to identify themselves from transacting business. Privacy is of utmost importance to many customers and managers argue that the enforcement of identification might lead to a decline in business. While a hearing date has yet to be scheduled, the casino is operating under a provisional license, valid through Nov. 30, 2018.

This is not the first scandal to have circled the Gardens Casino. Back in 2000, a committee chairman of the California legislature accused owner Irving Moskowitz of conspiracy to operate an illegally financed casino. Moskowitz, who passed away in June 2016, has been a controversial figure in Hawaiian Gardens for both his generous donations to the city (including a state of the arts sports facility) and his provocative political actions in East Jerusalem. Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak opposed Moskowitz’s “anti-peace” actions after spending two years in Israel near where Moskowitz funded Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods.

Those in support of Moskowitz’s philanthropic endeavors in Jerusalem argue that his organization is a “labor of love” while opponents call his efforts “noxious projects of the extremist settler movement.” Regardless of his political agenda, it is undeniable that Moskowitz and his establishments have been vital to subsidizing the city’s income.

Moskowitz acquired one-third of all the commercial property in Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest city in Los Angeles County, at less than one square mile in size, and the Gardens Casino alone accounts for more than $9.2 million, or 65 percent, of the city’s revenue.




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