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The City That Had Too Much Money

Vancouver was the first place to experience the tidal wave of Chinese cash. Now the city is leading efforts to stop it.

Morning view from False Creek in Vancouver.

Morning view from False Creek in Vancouver.

Photographer: Rachel Pick for Bloomberg Businessweek

The black coupe pulled up outside the Starlight Casino in a suburb of Vancouver. The driver got out, greeted a man in a red shirt, and pulled two bulging white plastic bags from the trunk. He led the way into an empty noodle shop next door, where he handed over the bags before returning to the car. The man in the red shirt took the bags into the casino, through a cavernous glass lobby with signs in English and Mandarin. At a cashier’s desk, he opened one of the bags to present his cargo: thousands of green Canadian $20 bills, bound into loose bricks with yellow plastic bands.

The cashier’s counting machine would need to run continuously for more than 10 minutes to riffle through all the notes, which came to more than C$250,000 ($192,000). Converted into chips that could be cashed out later, whether or not they’d been wagered at the tables, the money would be spendable anywhere in Canada, unimpeded by questions of provenance.