will a casino bring more crime?

Crime statistics about casinos are tricky and it is difficult to make broad statements about casinos and crime, because casinos are located in such diverse places and there are relatively few casinos in cities.  Nonetheless, it seems rather clear that urban casinos can expect an increase in certain kinds of crime, especially near the casino and along major arterial roads leading to it.  The potential is too great, we believe, for any nearby neighborhood to merely accept the risk and “wait and see”.  Once a casino complex is built, any increase in crime or perception of increased jeopardy on its streets will mean a reduction in the quality of life (and property values) for those living in its immediate vicinity.

SugarHouseEntryway follow-up: SugarHouse in Philadelphia: see our posting “did crime go up near the SugarHouse Casino?“, which discusses a study that some say demonstrates there was no significant increase in crime in the neighborhood of the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, which is operated by Rush Street Gaming.  Our analysis suggests, to the contrary, that those who live near a proposed urban casino should continue to be quite worried. And see, (Aug. 4, 2014).  .

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The New York State Task Force on Casino Gambling – Report to the Governor (August 30, 1996), was thorough in its research, looking at existing studies and doing some of its own.  The Task Force Report was in favor of having upstate NY casinos, and found that “Casino gambling was accompanied by few significant or recurring crimes problems.” [217]  However, it distinguished between rural and urban locations, noting that the more rural a location, the less the probability of a significant increase in crime. “By contrast, the towns on the main routes to Atlantic City experienced spillover crime, which rose with proximity to the city.” [a t219] More generally, the Report continues:

  • “casinos in urban areas should be concerned with the potential for prostitution, panhandling, pick-pocketing and purse snatching. Urban casinos would be adversely affected by an unsafe urban environment, so that more resources would have to be devoted to maintain order and protect citizens from street crime.” [at 219]
  • “The frequency of theft, other property crime, and traffic-related offenses is likely to increase in and around a casino, with the extent of the increase largely dependent upon the opportunities presented by the location, historical crime patterns, and the daily visitor population.”

JailBird Furthermore, there were three notable exceptions to their finding that “Any growth in economically motivated crime is usually not accompanied by an upsurge in violent offenses in casino locales.” [at 218] Thus, “Researchers found greater increases in violent crime in localities most accessible to Atlantic City than in other communities in the region. Gulfport, Mississippi statistics show major increases in assaults (all levels), robberies and arson. And, while crime statistics are not available, Tunica County, Mississippi has experienced substantial increases in felony indictments and lower court filings since riverboat casinos began operating in 1992.”

Note: Atlantic City has a population of about 40,000 and Gulfport about 70,000, quite comparable in size to Schenectady’s 60,000.

The Report notes that the enormous increase in crime in Atlantic City from 1977-1980 (violent up 130%, non-violent up 176%), has been “misinterpreted”. The number of crimes may have gone up a lot, the Report says, but the increase in the number of persons in the City means “the risk of individualized victimization appears to have fallen slightly according to visitor-adjusted crime.”  I am not sure that is particularly re-assuring, especially to those who live or work near a casino, where the visitors are concentrated.

The Report adds that: “in sum, every factor that might affect opportunities for crime should be considered in casino planning.  The size of the facilities and overnight accommodations, hours of operation, types of games, age eligibility of patrons, availability of alcohol, and possible stake limits may affect the degree to which a casino causes crime in the community. The goal must be crime control.” [219]

NoloSharkS Problem Gambling and Crime: Another conclusion in the Task Force Report is: “With the advent of legalized casino gambling, pathological gamblers will likely commit additional income-generating crimes, though their prevalence and rate of criminal activity cannot be projected.” Thus, “Research indicates that there is a relationship between pathological gambling and economically motivated, non-violent offenses. Larceny, embezzlement, check forgery, loan fraud and tax evasion are thought to be the most common. . . . [I]f the number of compulsive gamblers grows with expanded availability and more convenient access to casino gambling, a corresponding increase in offending can be expected.”

Another study of interest is “The Effects of Casino Gambling on Crime”  (B. Stitt, D. Giacopassi, M. Nichols 1998), which was funded by a U.S. Justice Department grant and did a statistical analysis of 7 jurisdictions with fairly new casinos, comparing before and after crime stats.  It looked at both the official population of a city and the “at risk” population when visitors are added in.   Stitt et al concluded that there was a statistically significant increase in DUI, larceny/burglary, and family offenses in locations that established casinos in the 1990s. [at 16]  For me, the increase in family offenses is particularly telling, as it shows how the negative effects of gambling losses reach into the family of gamblers, as money for housing, food, clothing and children’s needs is spent at the casino.

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