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Generalizations Overshadow Truth about Casinos and Crime

24 July 2002

Before the casino referendum passed in Michigan, there were the usual dire predictions of the impact of casinos on crime in the City of Detroit. Would the overall rate of crime go up, or would the increased employment and boost to the economy the casinos would bring result in a lower crime rate. As discussed below, preliminary statistics suggest that crime has actually declined in the City of Detroit since the introduction of casinos. Yet, based on the reports in the mainstream media, one would think that the casinos have had the opposite effect.

Grant Stitt, Chairman of the University of Nevada-Reno Department of Criminal Justice, told The Las Vegas Sun that residents of communities introducing casino gaming often perceived that crime went up more than it actually did. Mr. Stitt stated, "That (the perception of crime) in itself is a significant factor, because you have to deal with communities based on what people think. They may not go to places they used to because they're concerned about being victimized. We don't understand why people think that."

He further stated, "Anytime you build a tourist attraction, you increase crime. You have an influx of tourists that are ready victims. They're relaxing and not on guard about being victimized." Mr. Stitt continued, "You could open a Six Flags (amusement park) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the crime rate in Sheboygan could go up because you have numbers of tourists coming into your community." Mr. Stitt's comments fall directly in line with the reality of crime rates. If more people are introduced to a particular area, the number of individual incidents will likely go up regardless as to whether you open a zoo, a theme park or a casino. Yet, as a percentage of the population circulating in a community, the actual amount of crime can be significantly lower.

A study conducted by the University of Nevada-Reno Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming supports the idea that casino gambling is simply another form of entertainment and that those who participate represent the general population. The study is entitled, "The Effect of Casino Gambling on Crime in New Casino Jurisdictions," and tracks the effect of casinos on crime in seven different cities that had recently introduced casino gambling. The cities were Biloxi, MS; St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Joseph, MO; Alton and Peoria, IL; and Sioux City, IA. The report states that,

"The seven jurisdictions each initiated casino gambling in the 1990's and have had casino gambling for a minimum of four years. This time frame allows comparisons to be made before and after casinos were in operation. Comparing the before and after crime rates, the data revealed few consistent trends in crime. In three communities, there were many more crimes that significantly increased than decreased. In three other jurisdictions, there were many more crimes that significantly decreased than increased. In one city, the vast majority of crimes showed no change. Few statistically significant changes are found in pre and post casino periods. It is plausible that the effects of casinos in a community are quite varied, depending on a multitude of variables."

These results illustrate the fact that casino gambling may have no significant effect on crime rates per se and notes that any increase or decrease in crime rates depends on the human element, and cannot be predicted. Crime rates rise and fall periodically in all cities and locations regardless of whether they have a casino or not. One could potentially make the argument that brining casinos into a particular location could decrease the occurrence of specific crimes just as easily as one can argue that the introduction of casino gambling raises crime rates.

Each day, more than 50,000 gamblers walk into one of the three Detroit casinos. Out of this huge group of people it is inevitable that there will be some small number of people who do bad things at some point in their lives. When caught, it is not surprising that they are quick to make excuses to try to elicit sympathy. The popular misconceptions and myths about the casino gambling industry provide a ready target for this type of excuse making. Unfortunately, the media is all too often a willing accomplice in further promulgating such myths. After all, a headline that reads "Casino Losers Rob Banks" probably makes "good copy" and sells papers, even if it fails to see the forest through the trees.

According to Detroit's Official Uniform Crime Report, provided by the Detroit Police Department's Crime Analysis Unit, Part I crimes (including homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary and larceny) have dropped drastically by an impressive 24% since casino gaming was introduced to the city. In 1998, prior to casino gaming in Detroit, 117,911 Part I crimes were committed. In 2001, after three years of casino gaming in Detroit, 90,193 Part I crimes were committed. That is nearly 30,000 fewer Part I crimes committed in Detroit since casino gaming debuted in the city. Since 1998, the year before casinos came to Detroit, homicide is down 8%, assault is down 12%, robbery is down 17%, burglary is down a whopping 30% and larceny is down an amazing 32%. The crime rate in Detroit has decreased in every major category since casinos were introduced to the city. You can access these statistics at the City of Detroit's official web site at: These statistics offer simple proof that introducing casino gaming into a community does not increase crime.

What is astounding to me is the lack of outrage expressed by members of the casino industry and casino patrons to such misguided attacks. I can think of no other industry that is subjected to such continuous unsubstantiated abuse. Too often, opponents of casino gambling quote single lines of scientific studies out of context to support their theories while ignoring the overall conclusions reached as a result of the study. Some of the broad over-generalizations that result are, quite simply, offensive. There are many good people who enjoy their visits to the casino without becoming the evil monsters that the media portrays them as potentially becoming.

Left out of all of these attacks is one very simple, common sense concept called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. People who are hell-bent on self destruction will find some means of doing it, whether it be alcohol, drugs, food addition, smoking or problem gambling. In most cases, these individuals use more than one method to self destruct.

What the casinos have brought to such individuals is a real opportunity for treatment through substantial funding of counseling programs for such addicts. This is funding that prior to the introduction of casinos in Detroit did not exist despite a significant number of problem gamblers who were either betting illegally on the Internet, or who were going to Canada, charity nights, the tracks, the state lottery, tribal casinos, bingo, the "friendly neighborhood poker games," office pools or betting on their golf matches.

Personal responsibility means getting help when it is needed. The Detroit casinos, through millions of dollars of contributions, have assured that the help is there. The casinos in Detroit promote the availability of counseling through the funding of signs within their properties; bill boards on Michigan freeways; T.V or radio commercials; and newspaper ads that you see all across Michigan. That may not make good page one copy or sell many papers, but it is the truth.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites: