Louisiana is set to pass legislation requiring formal anti-human trafficking training for casinos, with the proposal inspired by the state’s chief gaming regulator, as well as the priest who administered the last rites to Mother Teresa.
More than a decade ago, Rev. Jeffery Bayhi happened to be talking to the future chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board (LGCB) when the issue of human trafficking came up.
“I told him I did not think human trafficking was that much of a problem in Louisiana, and he set me straight right away,” said Ronnie Johns, who was then a Republican in the Louisiana Senate but is now the state’s chief gambling official.
“He said human trafficking is a problem everywhere,” Johns said.
Rev. Bayhi is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he wrote a book called “Paved With Souls” about his six years of summer journeys to the slums of Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa in her world-renowned ministry to the poor.
Like the Rev. Bayhi, Johns is a native Louisianan and both of their families immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon.
“We Lebanese tend to stick together,” Johns said.
Johns’ discussion with Bayhi inspired him to begin introducing legislation in the Louisiana Senate to prevent human trafficking.
Year after year, Johns continued to offer more comprehensive bills, and they always passed.
“The casinos don’t want human trafficking on their property. The video poker operators don’t want it, either,” Johns told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
“The only pushback I ever got was from strip clubs when I introduced a bill raising the age of the men and women who worked at the clubs from 18 to 21. Human traffickers think 21 is old. They want younger girls.”
The strip club bill passed too, and Johns soon found himself testifying before a Texas legislative committee considering a similar measure, which became law in 2021.
When Johns, 73, became chairman of the LGCB in July 2021, he had to give up membership on various boards, including the Metanoia Foundation founded by the Rev. Bayhi, which seeks to help teenage victims of human trafficking.
It was just one month after Louisiana passed legislation for sports betting, and Johns’ workload was nothing less than staggering.
Early this year, however, Johns realized he had enough time to complete unfinished business on human trafficking.
He approached his friend and former colleague, Democratic state Senator Gary Smith, Jr., who is chairman of the Louisiana Senate Judiciary B Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over all gaming legislation in Louisiana.
Smith and Johns collaborated to author Senate Bill 192, which would require the LGCB to develop and implement “comprehensive in-person and digital training human trafficking awareness and preventing training for the gaming industry.”
The LGCB would even develop formal regulations setting minimum training standards, with completion of the training annually to become a licensing requirement for casinos and other gaming establishments in the Pelican State.
A separate provision of SB 142 would amend Louisiana’s sports wagering law to enable licensed fantasy sports operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel to join video poker establishments in applying for a direct license for sports betting, should any of the state’s 20 land-based casinos and racinos decline to do so.
The gaming bill passed the Louisiana Senate unanimously last week, and Johns said he is confident the measure will pass the House and be signed into law by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards later this year.
In an interview with VIXIO, Johns could not disguise the pride in his voice at the prospect of Louisiana elevating casino training requirements on human trafficking to the same level as anti-money laundering and other core compliance areas.
“Louisiana is already a pioneer in the fight against human trafficking and this bill will be the culmination of my efforts since I had that conversation with Father Bayhi,” he said.