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Will casino cut crime? Not likely
Rate rises after about 3rd year, study shows

Counties thinking about allowing casinos shouldn't bet on the jobs created to lower the overall crime rate. It doesn't happen that way, according to a study by a pair of university professors.

Although it takes awhile after a casino is allowed into a community, the crime rate climbs, according to "Casinos and Crime," by economists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Georgia.At about the third year, crime starts to climb until counties with casinos have an 8 percent higher crime rate than those without casinos.

The study was released Tuesday, just three days before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission is to formally release its report to Congress and the president.

"The rising impact of casinos on crime rates is consistent with the argument that it takes awhile for gamblers to exhaust personal resources before resorting to larceny and other crime," said Earl L. Grinols, a professor of economics in Illinois.

And he suggested that other studies had failed to note the increase because they measured crime right after casinos came into a community. It takes a while for the crime to show up, he said.

The study by Grinols and colleagues David B. Mustard, an economist at the University of Georgia, and Illinois graduate student Cynthia Hunt Dilley, claims to be the most comprehensive study of gambling and crimes to date.

The trio analyzed crime data from every county in the United States -- 3,165 in all -- over 20 years, from 1977 when there were 14 casinos to 1996 when the number, nationwide, had expanded to 167. That doesn't include casinos operated by American Indian tribes.

Looking at all the counties is important, Mustard said in a telephone interview, because when you look at six or eight cities, as most previous studies do, "you can pretty much pick your results by picking your cities. Tell me what result you want and we could get it."

They tracked all seven of the Index 1 offenses compiled by the FBI -- those are the most serious crimes -- rather than one or two crimes, as some studies had done. They also used census data to control for such differences as income levels, unemployment rates, distribution of food stamps and retirement payments, age, race and sex."

Overall, crime rates have dropped since 1991. But the study found a difference between crime rates in casino and non-casino counties.

Three property crimes -- burglary, larceny and auto theft -- and three types of personal crimes -- rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- became more prevalent about three years after a casino was opened.

Mustard said a number of things could increase or decrease crime in relationship with casinos. Crime decreases could come because of employment opportunities and higher wages brought in by casinos. But those would occur immediately.

Factors that could increase crime, Mustard said, include problem, pathological gamblers. When gambling comes into an area, it takes awhile for those gamblers to develop an addiction, then a bit longer to exhaust their existing resources. When that happens, some might turn to crime.

And casinos bring a lot of money into a community, which also tends to attract "unsavory types."

That's why Grinols and Mustard believed it was important to study the effects of casinos on communities over the course of years.

The researchers estimate the cost of casino-induced crime at $63 per adult in the 167 counties with casinos, for a total of $1.3 billion in 1996. If gambling was expanded nationwide, crime costs would be $12.1 billion, the researchers said.

Previous studies, which focused on smaller number of locations, have reached different conclusions. Some found increases in burglary and drug crime, while others showed cities with legalized gambling had lower crime rates than cities with popular tourist facilities. Mustard is quick to point out that many of the earlier studies were paid for by the gambling industry. This report, he said, wasn't paid for by either pro-gambling or anti-gambling organizations.

In fact, that was the first charge leveled by pro-casino groups when the report was issued Monday, he said. "They said the research was paid for by anti-gambling groups. I've had to explain that it wasn't paid for by any gambling group, pro or con. It's independent."

Mustard hopes that communities thinking about allowing casinos "will look at the full slate of costs and full slate of benefits. Most have just looked at a few isolated examples."