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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

State agents to be trained on trafficking

Conference at Toledo casino to focus on spotting the signs

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- A girl stands in a corner, looking too young for the age on the photo ID that got her into the casino. She avoids eye contact with customers and is never far from the reach of the man who walked in with her.

Experts have warned Ohio that where there are crowds, human trafficking will follow. A month and a half before the new Hollywood Casino Toledo is expected to open, about a dozen state enforcement agents will congregate there Tuesday for mandatory training on how to recognize modern-day slavery and how it can happen even in a crowded room.

"This business is about supply and demand," said Celia Williamson, the University of Toledo professor of criminal justice and social work who will lead the training.

"They want to bring [trafficking] victims around demand," she said. "You see that clearly in a casino situation. You're going to have men and men with money on them. Before this takes root in our local casino, we want to have people educated."

The Ohio Casino Control Commission has inserted into its regulations a mandate that training for casino security employees include "awareness and detection of suspected human trafficking occurring at the casino facility."

Toledo, which has had its share of unwanted publicity about its past role in trafficking, will be the first out of the gate.

Similar training is expected to be scheduled for agents at the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland, tentatively expected to open on May 14, 15 days before Hollywood Casino's targeted grand opening on the East Toledo riverfront.

"People are probably not completely aware of how big a problem this is," said Karen Huey, the commission's director of enforcement. "We have great [state] task forces working on this. There's a lot of support from the attorney general and the governor. We want to be proactive. A casino could be a possible place where you might run into some of these issues. It's about raising awareness."

The nonuniformed state enforcement agents, assigned through the attorney general's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, will primarily be at the casinos to watch the gambling itself. Unlike uniformed casino security, which will be focused on safety in and around the casino, the state's agents will walk among gamblers on the casino floor, monitor gaming operations via surveillance cameras, and generally watch for signs of cheating on the part of players or dealers.

Tuesday's training is strictly for the state agents. Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the corporation doesn't typically provide separate training for its employees on human trafficking.

"[Penn] works with both local law enforcement and state law enforcement and regulators in terms of being vigilant for any criminal activity on the property, and human trafficking is no exception … " he said. "At least in our experience, this is not an issue particular to casinos any more than it is anywhere else."

Witnesses in legislative hearings, as well as the FBI, have said that a riverfront casino could be a draw for an area that has already had documented problems with girls and women being coerced into the sex trade.

"We know the Craigslist entries go up whenever there's a big event, including the Columbus Arnold Classic," said Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo). "Now we have a casino, and we will have casinos in other parts of Ohio."

Craigslist has dropped its online sexual service classified listings, but other Internet sites have stepped up to fill that void.

It remains to be seen whether the lack of an on-site hotel at the Toledo casino, which abuts Rossford, would make a difference in terms of demand.

"We have hotels nearby," Ms. Fedor said. "I don't think it makes a difference at all. Human traffickers work within an organized criminal enterprise. I'm sure they're gearing up to cash in on selling human beings."

The spotlight fell on Toledo in 2005 after a federal sting in Harrisburg, Pa., broke up a trafficking ring involving 177 females, 77 of whom, including a 10-year-old girl, were from the Toledo area.

In addition to an existing interagency task force led by Attorney General Mike DeWine, Gov. John Kasich recently signed an executive order to create a task force that would have to report back within 90 days with recommendations on a coordinated plan to attack trafficking and help its victims.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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