Combating Human Trafficking At Casinos — Red Flags & Actions

November 30, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

The multi-billion dollar casino industry, possibly much like several other sectors, has sometimes been a target of unscrupulous characters who try and use the cover of a legitimate business to surreptitiously carry out criminal activities. When it comes to the hotels and hospitality industry, one of the ways in which criminals try and take advantage of this ‘cover’ is by using a legitimate organization’s property as a ‘meeting place.’ In a previous piece, we examined how human traffickers are also known to follow a similar criminal strategy, and have used casinos and gaming properties as a place to meet potential “buyers.”

In our earlier piece, we also established that there have been instances where sex trafficking survivors reported that casinos were used as a meeting place for buyers, some of whom were solicited online, or as a venue to solicit prospective buyers, according to the Colorado-based not-for-profit Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT). But, on the other hand, casinos 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’s this intersection of the two that uniquely positions casinos, like it does truckers, as another crucial aspect of the fight against human trafficking.

Globally, not just in the U.S., the travel industry is an unknowing conduit for human trafficking, says a training document for front-line staff published by MPI (Meeting Professionals International), a meeting and event thought-leader. Traffickers are known to exploit legitimate businesses to their advantage. When it comes to hotels and casinos, traffickers also tend to use them as venues since buyers most likely already have a room there. 

In this piece, we explore some of the red flags that casinos can be on the lookout for when it comes to identifying trafficking, and what actions they can take in case they do come across such instances.

Indicators Of Human Trafficking

In this section, we attempt to create a comprehensive list of possible red flags mentioned by various organizations, including the non-profit organization Polaris Project, the American Bus Association, the Texas Attorney General website, MPI, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and TAT-Busing on the Lookout. Before we list them out, though, it’s crucial to understand that it is never simple or easy to identify a person who is being exploited. It takes instincts, the power of observation, questions, and, of course, it finally takes trained law enforcement officers and other experts to actually investigate cases.

Nevertheless, there are some tell-tale signs. Per the websites and sources we mentioned above, indicators of human trafficking could include (but may not be limited to, and more than one red flag may be needed to be witnessed to establish enough premise):

  • Someone paying with cash only for a room and checking in for weeks. Or, the same person reserving multiple rooms (when combined with other red flags)
  • Someone who doesn’t have any ID, or their companion has their identification, could be a victim. Or, for instance, someone who appears to be under the control of another, or constantly defers to another person before giving out any information
  • Strange requests like asking for room with view of parking lot or far away from main entrance
  • Anxious or nervous behavior and avoiding contact with staff on the part of someone could indicate they are a victim, especially if combined with signs of visible bruising. A related red flag could be someone who seems overly fearful, submissive, tense, or paranoid
  • Possibly cases where the Do Not Disturb sign is consistently observed hung on the door (when combined with other red flags)
  • Individuals dress inappropriately for their age or have lower quality clothing compared to others in their party
  • Those under 21 could be an indicator (when combined with others). A child or children who can’t pass as 21 could be sold in “family-friendly” casinos where they’re more likely to blend in
  • How do you know if someone is scoping out your property for potential trafficking “buyers,” or even to learn about your casino’s security protocols? Such individuals may walk around the perimeter of the casino when they first arrive. They could commonly stop in the bar area, near the hotel elevators, or on corners where there is a lot of foot traffic. You may also see victims (or their pimps) looking for men who are winning big at the gaming tables, or are drunk, or for groups that look like they’re partying or alone. They may have been seen approaching men at the bar or on the casino floor whom they do not seem to know
  • You could also watch out to see if you spot people making recurring and frequent (less than an hour) trips between the casino floor and a hotel room
  • There are also signs that casino bus drivers can be on the watch for. Again, that includes coming across women, girls, or even boys and men (albeit rarer than the former), who either do not make eye contact with anyone else and/or have visible signs of physical abuse (bruising, malnutrition, branding, etc. It could also be people who are dressed odd or out of sync with their age or the weather. Children traveling with an adult they seem to be uncomfortable or uneasy being around are another red flag. Victims are also known to be transported on buses either in the nights or early mornings. They could also be traveling into gaming towns at night without booking a room or having any place to stay
  • Whether inside the casinos or in the buses, people who have been trafficked may only talk about lap dances or strip teases and will not likely set a dollar amount at that time
  • Then there are more easily identifiable signs, like when someone discloses that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that they were pressured into it. This is not just applicable to casinos and gaming properties, of course
  • While there are visible signs like all the ones we’ve listed above, in many cases, it may be impossible to identify even a single red flag. There may, quite simply, be absolutely no signs visible on the outside. But there’s another way to help in the fight against trafficking: by paying attention to people you actually know or interact with too. For instance, your students, or teachers, or tenants, or children, or patients or co-workers. In these instances, it’s context and proximity to a person that can help identify when something doesn’t quite feel right

How To Deal With Potential Cases On Your Property

What can casinos do if they come across an individual whom they believe has been trafficked or exploited; or if they believe a pimp is using their gaming property to surreptitiously carry out illegal trafficking activities? At the very outset, all experts say the safety of the victim is a primary concern. Given that, the most important immediate advice is to not confront either the victim or the offender. Here are a few things that can be done, per the same websites and sources mentioned above:

  • Of course, if there is reason to believe someone may be in immediate danger or harm, call 911. TAT-Busing on the Lookout says: “If you believe someone in your establishment or on your bus is in danger (especially a child under 18), please call 911 for immediate response from local law enforcement”
  • Similarly, if you believe you have identified a missing child in the United States, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) toll-free Hotline at 1-800-843-5678
  • If you suspect human trafficking or exploitation may be happening in your establishment but do not think anyone is in immediate danger, call the human trafficking hotline. Both the United States and Canada have human trafficking hotlines that are multilingual, accessible nationwide and are staffed to answer calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
    National Human Trafficking Hotline in the U.S.: 1-888-373-7888
    Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010
  • Calls received by either hotline are always anonymous unless the caller chooses to provide the operator with his or her name and contact information and authorizes its use. This information is not given to law enforcement, other individuals or other agencies without prior consent
  • Finally, per the TAT-Busing on the Lookout toolkit, in all cases, casinos should have internal reporting protocols in place for when trafficking is suspected and always make sure their employees keep safety in mind as they act