The Gloves are Off: Inside the AGA’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

Operating a casino comes with many unique challenges—unfortunately, dealing with crime such as human trafficking is one of them. Thankfully, the experts at the American Gaming Association have released new resources for operators to help curb this centuries-old practice.

The Gloves are Off: Inside the AGA’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

The gaming industry, and specifically casinos, do a lot of good for the communities they serve—they provide jobs, entertainment and in most instances, a significant amount of tax revenue for public initiatives and other purposes. But let’s not pretend that there aren’t drawbacks, either.

No matter what marketing managers and CEOs may say, casinos have had a long and documented history of crime association, most of which we can look back fondly on with a sense of Rat Pack-era nostalgia; in fact, you can pay $29.95 to see it all on display at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. Make no mistake, however—even in 2022, casinos have revolving doors and oodles of cash, and that combination inevitably breeds crime, from petty theft all the way up to money laundering, and, unfortunately, human trafficking.

In recent years, the fight against this age-old problem has ramped up significantly, and organizations are doing more to spotlight victims’ services as well as preventative measures. The American Gaming Association (AGA) is one such organization: as one the leading names in gaming, the AGA recently formed the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and released a comprehensive guide entitled Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in the Gaming Industry, which they hope will raise awareness and bolster preventative efforts within the industry.

As efforts to shed light on the issue have increased nationwide, the AGA felt it was time to lead the conversation within the gaming space and use its resources to compile much-needed information in one place, according to Alex Costello, AGA’s vice president of government relations.

“As a trade association that represents the industry, we were well-placed to take a lead and kind of harness some of the collective energies that are happening amongst our membership and really direct it in a more organized, collaborative fashion, “ said Costello.

“In January of ‘21, we hosted a webinar for our members, as part of ‘National Combating Human Trafficking Awareness Month.’ And so we hosted a webinar with a number of government and non-government partners. There was clearly just a lot of appetite for more information, it was really well-attended. So we’ve partnered subsequently with a number of government agencies to try and provide more information, but that’s sort of what sparked the idea for creating this task force. We have various policy groups at AGA, and this felt like something that we would have a lot of interest in.”

For AGA President Bill Miller, the cause is longstanding, and one that he feels is a necessity for an organization such as his—he called the new initiative a “moral imperative,” due to the fact that the AGA is “so consumer-facing” and represents a lot of different interests, all of which have to be concerned with human trafficking in some form.

“I think about Ronnie Jones, former head of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board,” said Miller in an exclusive interview with GGB. “This was a passionate issue for him. For the guy who hired me, the former chairman of the AGA, Tim Wilmot, this was an issue that he cared deeply about. Many of the member companies have said, ‘Look, we’re a part of the hospitality industry, right. And in the hospitality industry, sex trafficking, human trafficking exists.’ And so we need to take a leadership role here.”

The task force’s 25-page guide was released June 28, and includes loads of information that the association feels will help “educate individuals on what constitutes human trafficking and the risks it poses to the gaming industry; empower gaming employees to act when they notice human trafficking; prevent human trafficking from occurring at—or being facilitated through—gaming operations; address the specific needs of gaming executives as they institute anti-trafficking policies; and protect patrons and employees from the effects of human trafficking.”

This isn’t a one-time initiative, either—Costello said that the newly-formed task force will continue to collaborate with law enforcement and government agencies to update the guide with new information once it becomes available. She called the recent release “the first step in a multi-pronged effort.” Part of the reason why human trafficking has persisted this long is because bad actors can be some of the most creative and evasive, and the AGA will work with officials to spotlight those evolutions moving forward.

“Unfortunately, traffickers are very sophisticated, right? They can change their methods, their approaches, some of their patterns,” said Costello. “And so we need to be responsive to that. So, there isn’t a specific cadence that we sort of dictated that needs to be updated, you know, every X months or years. But I think we are going to be led by those, those indices from law enforcement, as well as larger policy changes.”

Circumstances and resources may vary, but overall, the AGA’s biggest piece of advice for all operators is to address the issue head-on as a company, and make sure that all employees have the training and foresight they need to combat this issue effectively. Miller said the association is encouraging its members to have written, top-down policies, because staff from all departments have made it clear that they “want to better understand what are the signs of human trafficking.” These policies can include training procedures, signage and educational opportunities.

“I think building relationships with law enforcement, with local activists, local nonprofits, makes it a lot easier when you’re talking to folks who are within your community, who are already working in your space, or really encouraging our operators to do that as well,” said Costello.

Signage is perhaps the most important aspect, because it’s public, it’s cheap and it alerts patrons as well. To be clear, the AGA doesn’t advise employees or patrons to take matters into their own hands—”leave that to the professionals”—but a simple poster with a hotline is an extremely manageable and simple tactic that could literally save lives down the road.

As gaming expands into new markets moving forward, these kinds of resources will be vital for regulators who are responsible for drafting comprehensive guidelines that include issues such as human trafficking. Thankfully, we are already seeing progress—Costello mentioned Virginia, and how even though its casinos aren’t open yet, the state legislature “actually included specific language in their gaming requiring signage for operators. “ Older markets, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, may take a little longer, but Costello is excited that “new states are already thinking about this sort of thing” from the start.

For those interested, the guide is available in its entirety here.