Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Deepti Govind’s article, “Where Do Casinos Fit In The Fight Against Human Trafficking?” Biometrica.com, 26 Oct 2021, is an excellent read to understand human trafficking (HT) similarities across gaming, hospitality, and transportation industries. A 12-state HT joint operation by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol resulted in charges against Sean Green for trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation at the Argosy Casino and Hotel. The undercover sting, called Operation United Front, led to 102 arrests in 12 states. The investigation also rescued 47 victims, including two minor victims (Emily Rittman, “Man Could Face Up To 20 Years For Trafficking Following Sting,” Kctv5.com, updated 21 Oct 2021).
Traffickers target the above venues for their illicit activities because they serve as a meeting place for buyers, some of whom were solicited online, or as a venue to solicit prospective buyers. But, on the other hand, these venues can also become a refuge for victims and offer them a secure location from where they can seek help or try and escape their situation. It is this intersection of the two that uniquely positions these venues as key locations in the fight against HT.
The report by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking (CCEHT), Human Trafficking Corridors in Canada, 22 Feb 2021, provides several insights into HT, transportation, and transportation corridors, many of which apply to the United States as well as other countries. Transportation in HT serves many purposes:
First and foremost, transportation is a control mechanism employed by traffickers to keep victims isolated from friends, family, and other social circles leaving them unable to engage socially or reach out for help. Travel can keep victims confused, isolated and dependent on their traffickers
Traffickers use HT corridors to strategically maximize profits and mitigate the risks associated with operations. Traffickers stay in a given city as long as it is profitable (anywhere from one night to several weeks) and they are not detected by law enforcement. When they are detected, victims (and traffickers) move to thwart investigations by law enforcement organizations. Consistently moving from place to place — between hotels, houses, cities or provinces — helps avoid detection from law enforcement and compliance with laws that would ultimately lower traffickers’ profit and/or jeopardize their business altogether
Persons trafficked along HT corridors are largely advertised through online escort ads
Travel/transportation are considered overhead expenses, together with food, accommodation, clothing/makeup and are easily absorbed due to high net profit margins resulting from the withholding of all revenues from the victims exploited by traffickers
Drivers of buses that carry patrons to and from casinos could — again, like truck drivers — come into contact with trafficking victims who are being transported. Or these victims may be trying to use these buses as a way to run away from their situations. Govind cites the Meeting Professionals International (MPI), “Training & Tips for Front-Line Staff,” which provides venue indicators of HT, resources, and training. Govind also cites the Colorado-based Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), Busing on the Lookout (BOTL) industry-specific training materials for casinos designed to train gaming industry employees on how to recognize and report signs of HT they may be seeing in the course of their everyday jobs. These materials are a primary training tool for casinos and can be supplementary to the standard BOTL resources for transit and motorcoach.
When it comes to hotels and casinos, traffickers also tend to use them as venues since buyers most likely already have a room there. And traffickers are always looking to cut costs. When operating at a casino or hotel-casino, the traffickers may be with their victims, or on the premises, or may send their victims to the casinos to find buyers on their own.
If they are on the premises, while their victims are working, traffickers may go to a hang-out area and entertain themselves with drinks and play games. Even when victims are on the premises without their trafficker, there may be a strong trauma-bond (powerful emotional attachments that occur as a result of cycles of abuse), which makes it more likely that victims will stick to a scripted story, refuse to cooperate, or claim they are there by “choice.”
Sex trafficking in casinos tends to have its own set of rules that the traffickers and victims will follow based, in part, on the operations and culture of the casino itself. Given that, there tend to be two categories of victims: those who are new to being trafficked at casinos and may have a harder time approaching buyers and are, consequently, easier to spot; and those who already have experience at casinos and are more likely to know the casino floor plan, work hours of staff members, etc.
Per the MPI document, if a trafficker plans to use a casino as a meeting venue, the individual will learn the hours and operations of the casinos, as well as the schedules of the head of security and pit bosses. In contrast, the same traffickers will want to avoid businesses whose staff have the reputation of being trained to recognize HT and are willing to report it to law enforcement. That’s where the role of casinos in fighting HT really starts, with training employees on identifying and reporting it.
Buyers of commercial sex work at casinos too and tend to fall into two main categories. There are the repeat buyers who have been to casinos to purchase prostituted people before and have returned with the intention of purchasing sex again. And then there are the new or “opportunistic” buyers, who have either not purchased sex before or who did not come to the casino with a plan or the intention of purchasing sex. Warning signs and posters are said to be an effective deterrent for opportunistic buyers.
At hotels and casinos, it’s the busier seasons that tend to both increase patronage to the casinos and the illicit demand for purchasing sex at them. Studies have also found a correlation between major events and increases in sex trafficking, because of increases in demand for commercial sex during those events, especially for those in which there are large numbers of men visiting from out of town. These spikes occur during sports events, concerts or music festivals, trade shows, and conferences.
There is no standard appearance to identify victims of HT at casinos. They will be dressed based on what they think will appeal to buyers in that location, but will also try not to dress in a way that stands out as inappropriate for the season or their age. There have even been some instances where rogue casino or hotel staff have been reported as acting as middlemen in setting up prostituted people with buyers. This is where background screenings of employees plays a crucial role.
Anyone wanting to report potential trafficking or victims in need of help can call 911 for emergencies or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.