Casinos: Unintended Consequences on Sex Trafficking of Youth

This article originally appeared in “Voices from the Field,” an electronic publication of the Georgia Grantmakers Alliance to provide members with insights concerning the possible impact of legislation being considered by the General Assembly.

By Alex R. Trouteaud, Ph.D.

Law enforcement agencies, victim services providers, and public policy advocates have been working closely together over the last decade to combat the problem of child sex trafficking in metro Atlanta. While we understandably sympathize with and focus our attention on the young victims of sex trafficking, the underlying problem facing our region has less to do with children and more to do with the men who offend against them. Because child sex trafficking is a “transactional” form of child abuse, we must evaluate its causes and solutions from an economic framework where the “supply” is trafficking victims and the “demand” is men who buy them for sex (pimps/traffickers are “market facilitators” who make a market operate more efficiently, but do not shrink or expand it).

In this framework, there will be more victimization (supply) if there is more demand. Conversely, the only way to reduce victimization is to lessen demand. It is through this economic lens that we can say with near certainty that adding casino gambling to Atlanta will increase sex trafficking to one degree or another. A 2010 study published in the UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal found in a survey of over 6,000 individuals that casino patrons were 17 percent more likely than the average survey respondent to have paid for sex in the past year (problem gamblers 260 percent more likely to do so). This is the core reason why prostitution tends to flourish near casinos, with child sex trafficking being an inevitable byproduct of a flourishing local prostitution market.

This finding is corroborated by a large field study of prostituted youth in Atlantic City, conducted by a research team from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The direct connection between child sex trafficking and casinos was addressed incidentally in their 2016 report: “(interviewed youth in the sex trade) reported that they either obtained customers ‘on the street’ (61 percent); through referrals (22 percent); at strip clubs, other clubs or bars, in casinos, or at private parties (29 percent); or via the internet (13 percent).”

Though it was not the study’s primary aim, the researchers nonetheless documented trafficked children “obtaining customers” directly from nearby casinos. We call that being victimized by adults. From these data we cannot say exactly how much victimization would increase from the additional casino-related demand. For context, however, there are currently around 300 juveniles under 18 involved in Georgia’s sex trade, with evidence of child sex trafficking offending across the state in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. An increase to the number of victims due to an increase in demanders from casino gambling would put additional financial strain on victim services agencies (including the child welfare system), as well as on law enforcement agencies that conduct costly victim recovery and perpetrator accountability operations. In November 2016, 83 percent of Georgia voters agreed to assess a fee on “strip club” establishments to help fund child sex trafficking victim services, because of their documented impact on the scope of the problem. The research cited here clearly documents that casinos fall into the same category of impact; therefore, elected officials should consider whether casinos must share in the financial responsibility for victim services.