a Pylon Precis (too big, too bright, too much)

  We’ve posted a lot at this website about the immense proposed Schenectady Casino pylon. This posting is an attempt to provide our readers (including the Schenectady Planning Commission and staff) with a fairly pithy summary. To wit, as explained a bit more below, we believe the proposed pylon colossus is too big and too bright for Schenectady and its visitors, especially at the proposed location near Nott and Front Streets, Erie Boulevard, and the planned traffic rotary. [update: click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015; also, “bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015).]

– Two collages sum up our main factual points; first:

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

However, some casino boosters (and regulators), might say: “Haven’t Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and other Rush Street representatives been telling the Planning Commission, the Mayor, and the press, all year that an 80′ pylon sign was absolutely needed due to the casino being unseen behind the STS Steel building?” Yes, they have been constantly making that claim. And, it is not true:

NoSTSExcuseS

We believe the Schenectady Planning Commission has the duty and authority in its §264-89 Site Plan review of the Rivers Casino site plan to refuse to approve the proposed size, location, and design elements of the casino’s pylon. Although they exempted casino signage from the Zoning Code’s Art. IX signage regulations, the amendments this year to the C-3 District rules nonetheless specifically required Site Plan Review of casino signage by the Planning Commission.  Thus, as amended, §264-14(H) states:

“Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”

Protestations by Commissioners and the Planning Staff that their “hands are tied” regarding the size and design, much less the location, of the pylon have no basis in the law, and frankly stoke the fear that applying a rubberstamp and rushing through Rush Street’s requests have become the modus operandi of the Commission (even if not the personal preference of individual members). As stated in Comments to the Commission on June 17, 2015 (by this site’s editor):

Even if the Applicantʼs pylon proposal is within the C-3 pylon height and signage maximum limits, this Commission has the authority and responsibility when performing a site plan review (under Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.) to assure:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

The two-sided pylon signage structure proposed by Rush Street Gaming for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is:

  • too large in both height and width, with an LCD message screen far too big and bright, to be so near crucial intersections, including the planned new (and unique for Schenectady County) traffic rotary, and the entranceway and exits of the Casino compound and Mohawk Harbor; see our discussion and outline of the electronic message screen safety factors at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors
  • too close to residences (e.g., East Front Street homes and Union College’s largest dormitory a block away, as well as condos, town-homes and apartments planned at Mohawk Harbor)

Thorough and objective application of Schenectady’s Site Plan standards should, we believe, require the Planning Commission to reject the proposed pylon or approve it with adequate and specific restrictions as to size (both height and width), brightness, proximity to roadways and residences, and use and size of LCD displays. Refusing to approve the pylon as proposed is particularly appropriate, given the failure of Rush Street to provide renditions of the structure showing its precise location in relationship to roadways and the rest of the casino compound and other Mohawk Harbor buildings, parking lots, etc. Furthermore, with no Visual Impact Analysis, including a line of sight survey, indicating where and how the pylon sign will be visible in the day or the night, the Commissioners do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions about a monumental sign that would dominate our skyline and surely become the symbol of Schenectady to the rest of the world.

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PylonPrecis

red check For amplification of the points made above, see the postings and materials listed in the Pylon Directory at the top of our Pylon Envy posting.

Trump’s Taj casino doesn’t want a college nextdoor

It looks like the folks at Trump Entertainment have more sense than our Rush Street crew, City Hall, the Gaming Facility Location Board, and the Administration of Union College.  Here’s what they posted on their website last week about Stockton University wanting to use the lot next door for a campus:

podiumflip“The facts are that our company does not think having a college next door to the Taj is good for our company. Having kids under 21 who will attempt to gain entry to the casino and engage in activities reserved for those only 21 and older would create numerous problems we do not want, and could damage the Taj’s ability to attract customers and regain its financial health. You do not see a college on the Las Vegas strip. “

According to a story in the Courier-Post (March 25, 2015), Stockton’s president, Herman Saatkamp, lashed out at Trump Entertainment on Tuesday night, saying, “We have been stabbed in the heart.” Stockton College purchased the property, the site of the failed Showboat Casino, knowing that the Taj Mahal Casino would have to waive their rights to block anything other than a major casino at that location, for the school to have a campus there.  For details on the story, see “Taj casino doesn’t want college next-door” (AP/Courier-Post, March 25, 2015).

We’ are, of course, opposed to a casino near a college for different reasons than Trump Entertainment. See our posts “Union College and the Schenectady casino” and “what will the casino mean for Union College students?”. But, realizing that there are good business-related reasons for a casino to avoid such proximity to thousands of college students makes it even less palatable that local and State officials refused to acknowledge the problem.

Leadership We understand that Union College President Stephen Ainlay may fear retribution from the City, Metroplex and Galesi-related donors, for speaking out against a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Nevertheless, the silence of such an important local institution, despite the potential harm to its student body, shows an irresponsible lack of leadership and courage.  Click on the image at the right of this paragraph to see a poster about college presidents created by the (successful) opponents to a casino in downtown Hamilton, Ottawa, Canada. 

 

the House is already winning: giving away the shore

CasinoHotel9floors  – a hotel 110′ tall; Trump’s along the Mohawk? 

–  click this link for Comments to the Planning Commission on the Waterfront C-3 Amendments by David Giacalone (editor of this website), on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

red check update: The pleas of over half a dozen Schenectady residents that the Planning Commission not recommend such provisions as 110′ buildings, 40′ setbacks, giant pylons, and 20,000 sq. ft. of signage, and take more time to research materials and have staff and the developer submit more specific plans, below making its recommendations.  Such comments made no difference at all in the final results.

    Is there anything Schenectady’s Mayor and City Council won’t do for their Casino Cronies? The gifts to the future Casino Owners in the proposed amendments to the City’s waterfront zoning regulations could scarcely fit on a river barge, much less under a Christmas Tree.  In changing the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use ordinance, City Hall proposes to give the Rivers Casino group significantly more leeway in designing their facilities than the Applicant ever asked for, or said was needed, in its public statements.  As a result, the Mohawk Harbor Riverfront and Erie Boulevard “front yard” could be more crowded, gaudy and tacky than the proponents of this “modest” project have ever given us to believe.  In reviewing the proposed changes, you might want to ask yourself just when the Mayor, Council President, and Metroplex Chairman knew of these changes.

Thanks to the Daily Gazette, we have online access to the proposed amendments to the City’s C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District; click for the Proposed “C-3/Casino” Amendments. Neither the City Council agenda for Monday January 12, 2015, nor the Planning Commission’s agenda for its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14, included the proposed casino zoning amendments, despite the topic being on the agenda of each body.  Click the following link for the Current C-3 Zoning Ordinance, which was last amended in 2009.

More Crowded and Tacky?

Bigger Hotel – Closer to the Shore: One proposed amendment to the Casino District Zoning rules would allow its hotel to be 110′ tall.  Yes, the Applicant did mention an 110′ height limit in its environmental impact statement, but it never warned us that the omni-present rendering of its casino hotel (the one with all the cherry blossoms) was not representative of its actual goal.  The rendering shows a casino hotel of about 5 floors, which might be 65′ high.   A hotel 110′ high would probably have about 9 floors above the ground.  For your comparison, here is the Applicant’s widely-used hotel rendering on the Left, with my best estimate on the Right of how high a 110′ version might be:

Comparison

– visual bait and switch? –

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Parker-Proctor  How tall is 110 feet?  Proctor’s nextdoor neighbor, the Parker Inn was historically Schenectady’s tallest building. (see photo to the right of this paragraph) The Parker Inn is 98.56 ft. with 8 floors.  The former St. Clare’s Hospital, now called Ellis Hospital McClellan Campus, is a mere 69 ft. tall, with  5 floors above ground. Even the Wedgeway Building at State and Erie is only 72 feet, with 6 floors.   (Those three “tall” Schenectady buildings average about 12’5″ per floor.)  Imagine a building many times larger in bulk and 11 feet higher than the Parker Inn, with far less grace, enhancing our scarce Schenectady River frontage.

The Hampton Inn, at State and Clinton Streets, is right down the block from the Parker Inn. The Hampton Inn is 4 floors and appears to be a bit more than half the height of the Parker Inn; it has 93 rooms, which is half the 185-room figure the Casino has given in its impact statements. If you stacked another Hampton Inn on top of the current one, you would probably come fairly close to 110′. The following collage compares the Hampton-Parker end of the State Street block, with both the actual Hampton Inn and a bulked-up-casino-style version:

Hampton-ParkerCompareCollage

Important economic question: If Rivers Casino wants a hotel this big, how much will its promotions to fill the Casino Hotel cannibalize other quality hotels in Schenectady?  The sly Applicant never stated how many floors it hotels was likely to be, while indicating consistently that the separate, Galesi marina hotel would be 5-6 floors, and that the casino hotel would have 50% more rooms: 185  “+/-“, compared to 124 rooms.

One more height comparison: The Schenectady Casino Applicants’ environmental impact Statement compares its proposed 110′ hotel with the 103-foot Golub/Price Chopper Building, stating that it is less than a quarter-mile from the casino location.  Of course, the Price Chopper headquarters is situated alongside the rather unlovely Maxon Rd. and Nott Street, not our scarce waterfront. [Note: it is not clear that the building is in fact 103′ tall; it appears to be shorter than that. update: Dave Buicko, Galesi Group CEO, continued to state at the Jan. 14, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, that the Golub building, which is owned by Galesi, is 103′ tall. On Jan. 15, 2015, I received a response from a Price Chopper staffer to a question I asked on Jan. 13; she phoned to say that the Golub Corp. Headquarters is 86′ high.]

Here is a photo of the building at dusk on January 12, 2015, to help you decide whether a building that tall should be located along the riverfront (as opposed to further back on the large parcel) at Mohawk Harbor:

Golub1

the “103-foot tall” Golub Corporate Headaquarters – actually 86′ tall

  • By the way, directly across the street from the Price Chopper headquarters is the largest Union College residency hall, which was once a hotel.  It is merely 7 floors, but not exactly river-bank svelte:
CollegeParkResHall

Union College Residence Hall, 450 Nott St.

A Setback Setback.  Another City Hall concession would make the Casino Hotel loom even more ominously along the shore:  The Casino Applicant said all waterfront setbacks would be at least 50 feet; nonetheless, the amendments reduce the setback along the River to an even slimmer 40 feet.  Forty feet is awfully close to the river bank. [approximately the length of two Ford Expedition SUVs bumper to bumper]  Here are two 40-foot examples from Riverside Park:

casino40feet1  . . . casino40feet2

– click on a picture for a much larger version –

Note: The bike-hike trail could be 18 feet from the hotel.

Even Gaudier than Expected?

A Signage Tsunami.  No one can call the Galesi Group or Rush Street Gambling shy about asking for special rules.  The Amendments to C-3 state specifically that signage rules applicable to all other zoning districts [Article IX-Signs, §264-61(k)] do not apply at the C-3 casino compound.  So, the Casino Guys modestly said they would use no more than aggregate of 15,000 square feet of advertising.  [click for their statement on signage] That is 100 times more (not a mere 100% more) than permitted under Article IX.  Nonetheless, the Mayor et al. never said, “Now you guys are pushing it a bit.”  They said, “How about one-third more, 20,000 sq. ft.”

Freestanding at 80 feet.  The maximum height of a free-standign sign in any other zoning district is 10 feet.  The amendments do not state a maximum, only that Art. IX does not apply [update: the final version released for the Public Hearing before City Council calls for a 90′ limit on pylon signs.].  The Casino has told us it wants a free-standing pylon sign at the intersection of Front Street and the access point to the casino from the anticipated roundabout (near Front and Nott Sts.), to allow persons to easily locate the facility from Erie Boulevard.  But, don’t worry, “The height of the sign will not exceed 80 feet.” (Recall that the Wedgeway Building down at Erie Blvd. and State St. is only 72 feet high; also, GE’s giant, famous lighted logo has a diameter of only 36 feet; so stack one on top of another and you’re still 8 feet lower than the Casino Pylon’s apex.)

Pylon signage in the 80-foot-range is traditionally used by a business near a highway in order to give drivers traveling at 70 mph information about the service offered in time to allow them to safely get off at the next exit.  The sign industry calls such structures “freeway pylons.” For reasons too numerous to list, there is no analogous need in the situation of the Schenectady Casino.  By merely suggesting the possibility of an 80-foot pylon, Rush Street and Galesi Group demonstrate a brutish lack of sensitivity to aesthetics, safety, neighborhood traditions, and the image and reputation of the City of Schenectady — not to  mention the truth.

Wedgeway72

– the 72-foot-high Wedgeway Building, Erie at State –

A few months ago, the Applicant based its claim of having no negative impact on cultural resources and sensitivities (and fuddy-duddies worried about their viewscape) on the fact that you could not see their facility from the Stockade. They even said the RR underpass trestle on Front St. would block our view.  Back then, we did not agree, and a casino facility with a much taller hotel and a monster pylon, is most probably even easier to see.

Also, those who have long sought attractive entryways into the Stockade might not be pleased with that pylon, even if it had a Stockade sign with directional arrow.

Corner-Store-Pylon-Cometsigns  [sample pylon] Changing Electronic Messages. It is the giant pylon that will have, in addition to lettering and a logo for Rivers Casino, “electronic message boards.”  The safety-minded Casino assured us in its impact statement that “Messaging upon the electronic message boards will not change more frequently than 6 times a minute so as not to be distracting.”  Once again, rather than point out in amazement that current law only allows messages to change once per minute, and not even Proctor’s new marquee exceeds that pace, City Hall apparently said, “Heck, why wait 10 seconds to change a message, we’ll let you do it every 8 seconds,” which is 7.5 times a minute.

CrosstownPlazaSign

update: “grandfathered -in” pylon at Crosstown Plaza [shown above] is 50′ high; the Planning Commission voted to recommend a maximum of 90 feet on Jan. 14, 2015, but limited the portion of the pylon that could be signage to 70%  –

Good highway safety practice does not allow giant pylons with changing messages at places where drivers need to be paying close attention and have other distractions.  Our search online has produced no images of Rush Street having such giant pylons at its other, successful casinos — not even in Pittsburgh, where it might be a bit more difficult to find a low-rise casino than in Schenectady.  It will be interesting to see if City Hall changes its practice of Never Explaining, to justify such a drastic change in policy for electronic signs (other than, “it makes the Casino Cash-Cow content”). [followup: See the NYS DOT’s “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“, which set a  minimum interval of 8 seconds for changing electronic signs, but allows municipalities to be more stringent and suggests circumstances that might call for longer intervals.]

More Crowded?

In addition to having narrower setbacks along the River, which will surely increase the sense of being less spacious, the proposed amendments have a stealth provision that will increase the allowable footprint, and thus the width and length of buildings in the casino compound.  The Casino appeared to be content with the allowable footprint for buildings; however, the amendments in effect increase the footprint size permitted by counting the embayment area in calculating the size of the project lot.  Building footprints may not exceed 50% of the project site, but “the project site is defined to include any embayment.”

Hairy Arm Proposals?

Finally, it is difficult not to be suspicious of the statements and tactics of the Casino Collaborators after seeing them in action since the Spring.  The generous give-aways to the Casino owners and developer are perhaps part of a version of a  “hairy arm” ruse:  That is, City Hall is making outlandish proposals, so that it or the Planning Commission can look magnanimous and reasonable when they pull back a bit on an outrageous proposal or two. That may make it harder for dissenters to vote no, allowing the members to pass pared-down but still extreme concessions to their Casino Cronies.

We have not had a chance to study the proposals in depth, to see how other municipalities and planners have dealt with problems presented, and to uncover — much less examine — the reasoning behind each major proposal in the C-3 zoning ordinance.  Now that they have their casino victory, it is time for our local leaders to start asking tough questions and doing their homework before passing major zoning changes.

a New Year reminder of the job ahead

 Happy New Year to everyone who hopes the future Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor will somehow live up to its promises, while minimizing damage to the social, moral, legal, and financial fabric of our community.  Thanks again to all who worked in 2014 to avoid such damage by keeping a casino from being located in Schenectady. We haven’t stopped the casino, but we can’t give up the mission or the hope of stopping or reducing casino-made problems.

CasinoProblems2015Calendar It’s probably too early for public meetings on the best approaches for avoiding casino-made problems.  But, as the New Year unfolds, we hope the issues will be simmering on all our mental back-burners — whether opponents or proponents of the Schenectady application, in all sectors of our community: commercial, nonprofit, religious, political, academic, law enforcement, neighborhood advocates, and all people of good will.  Individuals and groups need to evaluate problems they feel are especially important and likely to occur in urban casino locations, such as an increase in certain kinds of crime and domestic violence, problem gambling (especially by the poor, elderly, young, and other vulnerable individuals), DUI and traffic problems, personal and business bankruptcy, evictions and foreclosures, etc., and a reduction in the quality of life and property values in nearby neighborhoods, including the Stockade Historic District. (See a possible list, with references, on our Issues page, and a more particular one centered on the Schenectady casino, in our Statement to the Location Board).

Because we are two years away from an operating casino facility, we have time to study experiences and experiments elsewhere and consult experts, to consider alternative approaches, to gauge the likelihood of nurturing community and political support for particular ideas and strategies, and to find individual and groups that have the commitment, ability, temperament, and energy to pursue and achieve our goals.  This need not, and probably should not, be a centrally-organized campaign, but it will hopefully be one where people and groups who share in the mission will also share a spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance in achieving our goals.

NoCasinoMadeProblemsB  You can click on the following link for a large jpg. file suitable for printing the one-page 2015 Calendar shown above as an 8″ x 10″ print. (you may reproduce it for any non-commercial purpose) We hope the calendar will be a reminder all year of the important task ahead.  Contact us with your ideas and/or your desire to be informed of our actions and meetings, or your willingness to be a volunteer in our efforts.

did crime go up near the SugarHouse Casino?

SugarHouseEntryway

Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino

Prior to the 2010 opening of the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, community groups warned that the casino would lead to an increase in neighborhood crime.  However, according to a news release posted on July 16th by Drexel University, a new study by two Philadelphia researchers “reveals that these concerns were unfounded.” Nonetheless, before you let down your guard or breathe a sigh of relief, please read on.

That claim is based on this conclusion in the study (emphases added):

In summary, there is no evidence that the opening and operation of the casino had a significantly detrimental effect on the immediate neighborhood in terms of vehicle crime, drug activity, residential burglary or violent street felonies.  

The SugarHouse crime study is entitled “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime;” it was conducted by by Lallen T. Johnson, PhD, an assistant professor of criminal justice in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Jerry H. Ratcliffe, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University; and was published online on by Palgrave MacMillan’s Security Journal.  For coverage in the popular press, see “Study says crime has not risen around SugarHouse Casino” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Vernon Clark, July 19, 2014); “No Crime Increase Around SugarHouse: Study (NBC10 Philadelphia, July 19, 2014). And see, “The Elusive link between casinos and crime(Pacific-Standard Magazine: The Science of Society, by Lauren Kirchner, July 29, 2014), which ignores the many weaknesses of the study.

 You can safely bet that we are going to hear about this study here in Schenectady, because SugarHouse is operated by Rush Street Gaming and owned by SugarHouse HSP Gaming, LP, which is primarily controlled by Neil Bluhm and his family. (see Pa. Gaming Board ownership listing, at 13-15).  Rush Street Gaming and Bluhm are, of course, the applicants seeking to build a casino in Schenectady.  We are, of course, opponents who have raised concerns over increased crime in the nearby neighborhood.

As indicated above, Johnson and Ratcliffe looked at four categories of crime: violent street felonies, vehicle crime (both theft of vehicles and break-ins), drug crime, and residential burglary in the surrounding community.  [They did not look at DUI or prostitution, two crimes on the short list of worries in the vicinity of an urban casino.]  Their data covered 80 months prior to the opening of the casino and 16 months after the opening.  The authors hoped their work would help answer a perennial question among crime scientists:

sleuth Has the casino’s presence led to increased crime in the immediate area and if not, has crime been simply displaced to nearby locations?

Prior studies have looked at crime statistics at a city or county level. Here, the authors used “geolocated crime data” to examine changes in crime volume in the immediate neighborhood of the casino since its opening; that “casino patrol area” covered an area one-half mile square.  They also looked at crime data for a “displacement area” just outside the “casino patrol area” to see whether the casino or related security and policing had positive or negative effects on that nearby area. (see Figure 1) The displacement area was about the same size as the casino patrol area.

Note: using the same distances as those in the study, one half-mile square, the Stockade District’s southeastern border would fall at the line between the casino patrol area and the displacement area, placing virtually the entire Stockade neighborhood within that potential displacement zone. See Map at the foot of this posting.  Union College’s campus and its College Park off-campus housing complex are also within the endangered areas.

– Figure 1 from SugarHouse Crime Study: map showing data areas –

SugarHouse Map- Figure 1 from  “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime.”

Ninety-six months of crime incident data were examined to determine the extent to which crime counts changed within the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown after the opening of a new casino.  As stated in the Drexel U. Press Release below, key findings include (emphasis added):

  • Violent street felonies increased at a rate slightly greater than violence in the control area; however, this increase was not statistically significant when examined in the context of the longer trend since 2004.
  • Vehicle crime decreased in the casino area; however, there was substantial displacement and the reductions in vehicle crime were not statistically significant over the long term.
  • Both residential burglary and drug crime decreased in the casino area (again though, not significantly from a statistical perspective) and there were reductions in these crimes in the buffer areas.

Reading that set of Key Findings does not leave me quite as sure as the headlines suggest that we can stop being concerned about more neighborhood crime if Schenectady gets a casino.  Living in the Stockade District, which is in the “displacement zone” of the proposed Schenectady casino, it is difficult to ignore the large increase in vehicle-related crimes. The authors say the increase was not significant “over the long term,” which clearly suggests that it was significant in the short-term, where we actually reside, stroll the neighborhood, buy insurance, watch house price trends, etc.

The authors also say (at 14), regarding “displacement” to the nearby neighborhood:

“The displacement findings are interesting. In anticipation of the casino opening, the 26th Police District commander created the special patrol district, to which were assigned additional police officers. The increased police attention in the special patrol area may have led to the displacement of vehicle crime to the surrounding area. Officers that were re-assigned to the patrol area were not replaced in the rest of the district. It is possible that the relative reduction in personnel outside of the casino area reduced patrol deterrence in the displacement area, while suppressing crime in the target area.”

In their conclusion, Johnson and Ratcliffe modestly state the obvious:

“Findings here do not settle the debate on casino and crime linkages, but contribute to a growing body of knowledge and suggest a need for more neighborhood level research. At the least, findings demonstrate that oft-stated community concerns regarding local crime conditions with the addition of a casino to a neighborhood were not borne out by the SugarHouse Casino example.

Reason for Concern?  Yes. For one thing, some types of crime out of the four categories studied did go up.  The study states:

  • graphup “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area.” [for examples, see “SugarHouse attacks concern casino neighbors” (CBS News10, David Change, Nov. 13, 2010); “Philadelphia casino winner robbed of $13,000“, New York Daily News, May 18, 2015); And,
  • “Vehicle crime decreased in the target area relative to the control area; however, there was substantial displacement indicating that the introduction of the casino made the vehicle crime problem in the combined treatment/buffer area worse than before the casino was opened.”

Beyond those worrisome increases, the failure to include DUI and prostitution is quite significant.  We expect a major increase in vehicles cutting through the Stockade, with drivers who have been drinking for hours, or weary employees and interns, using its narrow, dark streets as a way to avoid scrutiny on the well-lit Erie Boulevard, or simply to take the shorter route to SCCC or the bridge to Scotia and destinations heading west on Route 5.  And, we believe the Stockade’s shadowy streets and available apartments are ready-made for the expected increase in prostitution once the casino starts operation.

Furthermore, we need to ask whether the experience in a city 20 times larger than Schenectady can tell us much about what would happen here.  That issue, in all its facets, needs quite a bit of thought.

More important from a practical point of view, however, is the fact that Johnson and Ratcliffe admit their findings/conclusions are, “Net of unexamined police patrol changes and casino opening simultaneity effects.”  I have nothing useful to add on the issue of the “opening simultaneity effects,” but it appears that the “unexamined police patrol changes” may indeed be significant.  Thus, the very last sentence of the study states (emphasis added):

“Any potential significant crime increases either did not occur, or were effectively controlled by a reassignment of existing local police resources.”

That small word “or” raises big questions.   Here’s how the authors describe the police patrol changes that occurred in September 2010:

red check “When the casino opened in September 2010, the 26th Police District created a special casino patrol area. This area of slightly less than half a square mile (shown in Figure 1) is patrolled by one sergeant and 13 officers who provide coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

It seems to this layperson, that 14 additional officers covering an area one-half mile square in shifts that take time of day and other conditions into account, might indeed have a significant deterrent effect.  In addition, the Casino itself is required by the Gaming Commission to have at least 3 uniformed security men at the door, and has as many as 7 more in the parking lot at  night. Furthermore, the State Police cover the floor of the casino.  As the authors might say, there are a lot of crime managers and guardians on hand in an effort to prevent crime.

Therefore, it appears that we at the very least need to add a big asterisk to those headlines about no increase in crime, and include a footnote with the caveat: “if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a Police Casino Squad, or to leave other parts of town under-policed.”

GW dollar According to SalaryWiz.com, the medium total compensation package for a patrol officer in Schenectady is $71,965.  When we add the sergeant’s pay to that of his 13 underlings, a 14-officer squad would cost a little over $1 million to replicate in Schenectady.  Would our thrifty City Council pull some of the already scarce night-time patrols from other neighborhoods to keep the Casino Patrol Area adequately staffed?

 Such considerations turn this disclaimer by the authors into a major understatement:

“First, we should note that this is not a stand-alone quasi-experimental evaluation of the introduction of a casino to a neighborhood, due to the additional complication of the Philadelphia Police Department instigating a dedicated patrol to the neighborhood. The additional patrolling from 14 assigned officers may have acted to provide additional deterrence to any criminal activity.”

Johnson & Ratcliffe then say they cannot test in this study “Whether this is sufficient additional patrol for an area to have any impact.”   Most of us would hazard a guess that the patrol is indeed a significant deterrent with a meaningful impact on the crime rates.  And, in the Schenectady context, we would strongly disagree with the authors’ cavalier conclusion “that any additional resources were modest at best.”

So, we’ll be leaving our Crime Will Increase listing up on the Issues Page.  And, we’ll wonder, as we did all Spring, why only Councilman Vincent Riggi thought the City needed to do an analysis of the additional expenses it would be likely to incur if we had a casino operating at the old ALCO site.

CasinoFreePhila I’m going to let our readers answer the headline question at the top of this posting for themselves.

share this post with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime

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WikiMap-SchdyCasinoNeighborhood

wikimapia map of the Casino-East Front-Stockade neighborhood; click on the image for a larger versioin –

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.