Assessing the Impact of Casino Gambling on Crime

Does Casino Gambling Raise Crime Rates?

Canadians and New Zealanders have many things in common, starting with their colonial heritage. Casino fans in both nations also have access to legal land-based operations, but they are subject to different rules regarding online casino gaming. Canadians are allowed to play at any Internet casinos registered by Canadian provincial authorities or the self-governing Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, but not at online casinos licensed outside Canada.

Kiwis, on the other hand, are in a legal grey area, in that the law doesn’t permit online casinos to be licensed in New Zealand, but there is no law forbidding NZ online casino fans to gamble at casino sites licensed abroad. So casino gamblers in both countries have online access, although their governments are careful to regulate casino gambling online and on land.

One of the reasons often cited in countries that restrict gambling, especially in land-based operations, is that casinos invariably raise crime rates in the surrounding area. But does research actually bear this out?

Atlantic City and Lying Statistics

A 1985 study by Niagara University criminologist Jay Albanese of crime rates before and after casinos were opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey, initially seemed to show that rates of murder, assault, rape, robbery and theft in the area did increase after the casinos were introduced. This evidence was seized on immediately by many anti-casino lobbyists.

However, what the original comparison of raw crime statistics had ignored, was the sharp rise in population Atlantic City was undergoing at the time. When Albanese corrected the crime data to a per capita figure, the violent crime rates in the region had actually dropped.

The Philadelphia Story

The US state of Philadelphia got its first legal casino in September 2010, which allowed researchers a golden opportunity to study the change in a city that previously had no casino gambling, as it transitioned. An organisation called Casino-Free Philadelphia campaigned against it, citing fears of increased drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and a rise in robbery, burglary and embezzlement to feed problem gambling habits.

In fact, as in the Atlantic City study, crimes in the tourist district surrounding the SugarHouse Casino decreased over four years following its opening. There are two factors that may contribute to this. Firstly, casinos offer large-scale employment to low-skilled workers. Quite simply, a higher employment rate in low-income communities reduces crimes of necessity.

The second reason posited for a drop in crimes in Atlantic City and Philadelphia is the high priority casinos put on the safety and comfort of their guests. As major investors in a city’s economy, they warrant more frequent police patrols than many other enterprises, augmented by efficient private security. The visibility of both law-enforcement groups in the vicinity of casinos discourages crime.

How Problematic is Problem Gambling?

The problem with assessing the impact of casino gambling on crime is getting the correlations right, and there are studies that use methodologies that do show crime increasing after a casino opens, and that 2-3% of casino enthusiasts become problem gamblers.

However, there are also studies that show the same types of crimes: theft, drug abuse and violence: increasing in areas where a new mall has opened, or a theme park. It’s not the need to bet on casino games per se that appears to be attracting criminals, despite the ‘desperate gambling junkies’ logic; it’s the concentration of tourists that criminals see as easy prey.