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Panama – Money laundering troubles hit Panama casinos

By - 27 August 2014

The casino industry in Panama has been hit by a scandal with claims that casinos are unable to open bank accounts due to the fact that they have become unfairly associated with money laundering.

The claims were made during the Eighteenth Hemispheric Congress on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism held in Panama City. Organised by the Banking Association of Panama the conference attracts officials and representatives from financial institutions including banks, credit unions, currency exchanges, casinos, insurance companies, and brokerage houses from around the world.

President of the organising committee, Julio Aguirre said that casinos are increasingly having problems with the money transfer agencies authorised to operate in the Republic of Panama – a situation which is particularly serious in light of the fact that casinos all operate under licence by the state. However, casinos are sometimes being denied banking services due to fear that cash payments in casinos have made them vulnerable to money laundering practices by criminal elements.

Mr. Aguirre urged the government to take steps whereby a detailed risk profile and assessment could be drawn and analysed thoroughly before shutting down accounts simply because they considered to be high risk. Rather than distancing legitimate businesses the banks and other financial institutions should draw up profiles which would only exclude only very high risk clients he said.

Panama has been a bright spot in the industry ever since 1998 when the government passed a wide sweeping gaming law which permitted casinos as long as they were part of five star hotel with a minimum of 300 rooms. The boom has coincided with Panama’s growing tourist industry and the gaming market in Panama is showing signs of continued growth. Currently there are 18 fully fledged casinos and 26 slot parlours nationwide. According to the latest statistics, annual earnings for the casino industry in Panama stood at US$ 105m while slot parlours earned US$224m last year with the industry employing 7,000 people.

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