06/06/2003 12:00AM

Message to casinos: Don't shirk paperwork duties

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The United States government is taking any money laundering activities much more seriously since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nevada regulators have taken such activities seriously for much longer.

The Nevada casinos deal with more cash than any other business, and state regulators keep a strict eye on how they handle it.

So, it was no surprise when the Nevada Gaming Control Board leveled the biggest casino fine ever against MGM Mirage for its failure to file almost 15,000 anti-money-laundering reports with the federal government. The reports are required for each cash transaction of $10,000 or more. Last month the gaming giant agreed to pay $5 million in fines. The violations resulted in criminal charges for one MGM Mirage employee and the firing or resignations of eight others as a result of the investigation.

The violations took place from April 2002 to October 2002 and November 2002 to January 2003. The Mirage failed to submit 14,903 Regulation 6A Currency Transaction Reports to the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crime Network.

The Currency Transaction Reports reportedly were filled out but never mailed. Two internal audits by the Mirage failed to uncover the backed-up reports.

The Nevada Attorney General has filed criminal charges against Christopher Morishita, who was the Mirage compliance officer at the time and in charge of the filings. An affidavit filed against Morishita claims that he intentionally lied to his Mirage superiors and company auditors about filing the forms, hiding the fact he was months behind in his work. If he is found guilty, the 33-year-old Morishita faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. There are no reports of Morishita stating his side of the story.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board fine, which must be approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission on June 19, as well as the cooperation and quick response by MGM Mirage officials, underscores the gaming industry's commitment to federal and state laws regarding money laundering activities.

MGM Mirage officials took the blame for the incident, saying it was "an administrative error," but also said the actions that resulted in the violations went against company practice.

This is not the first time a Nevada gaming company has been penalized for failing to file timely anti-money-laundering reports. They must stay diligent in their efforts to comply with all gaming laws. After all, if people start thinking there is widespread regulatory violations by casinos here, then they very well might come to the conclusion that the casinos could be cheating them as well.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.