For someone supposed to be laundering millions of dollars in stolen funds, with investigators from three countries scrambling to track the money, Ding Zhize was a surprisingly unhurried man. He’d brought a dozen or so high rollers from China to play in the glitzy VIP room in MetroManila’s Solaire casino. The game was baccarat. It was late February 2016—still high season for Asian casinos, thanks to the Lunar New Year holiday—and Ding had been here for days. As red-shirted dealers laid down hand after hand, gamblers smoked Double Happiness cigarettes and helped themselves to an endless supply of mineral water, lemon tea, and Hennessy XO cognac. The chips they played in a steady stream were valid only in that room. The most valuable ones were rectangular plaques worth $20,000.
Ding, his partner, Gao Shuhua, and the gamblers in tow were probably betting on both the house’s hand and the players’ hands, trying to strike a balance between gains and losses. After all, the important thing for anyone looking to launder money through a casino isn’t to win. It’s to exchange millions of dollars for chips you can swap for cool, untraceable cash at the end of the night.