Communities with casinos are just as safe as communities without casinos. While anecdotal evidence and popular myth have perpetuated claims by gambling opponents that the introduction of casinos causes a rise in street crime, recent studies—both publicly and privately funded—as well as testimony from law enforcement agents working in casino jurisdictions, refute this claim.
In their reports to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC), neither the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences nor the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) was able to confirm a relationship between crime and legalized gaming. The casino effect was “not statistically significant” for any of the crime outcome measures, according to the NORC report.(1)
In 2000, the Public Sector Gaming Study Commission reached similar conclusions, finding “no link between gambling, particularly casino-style gambling, and crime.” In fact, the 2000 report recognized that casinos are more of a crime deterrent than an instigator. According to the report, “[T]he security on the premises of gambling facilities, the multiple layers of regulatory control, and the economic and social benefits that gambling seems to offer to communities are effective deterrents to criminal activity.”(2)
A 1997 study by Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland provided additional evidence refuting a causal linkage between crime and gaming. In his Report for the Greater Baltimore Committee, Reuter concluded the following: “[I]n no case is there any evidence that casinos have had a major impact on the crime rates of towns or metropolitan areas in which they are located.”(3)
Statements by law enforcement agents in gaming jurisdictions across the country also refute critics’ claims that gaming causes crime. Twenty-four sheriffs and chiefs of police submitted their findings to the NGISC, stating there was no connection between gaming and crime in their jurisdictions.(4) Other law enforcement officials from gaming jurisdictions who testified before the commission agreed with those submissions, and some pointed to a decrease in street crime in their areas.(5)
In fact, in Atlantic City, N.J., where gambling opponents continue to allege that casinos have caused an increase in crime, the crime rate has declined every year for the past five years, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Since 1988, there has been an increase only once, in 1995, and it was a slight increase. If that figure is adjusted to also reflect the 33 million visitors and the nonresident worker population, who also are at risk of being crime victims, the crime rate in Atlantic City is nearly 50 percent lower today than it was before casinos opened there in 1978.(6)
When calculating crime rates, it’s critical to account for the overall population at risk—both residents and visitors—particularly in tourist destinations. Any community with more visitors, hotels or other commercial activity is likely to experience an increase in reported levels of crime due to an influx of people and activity. The actual crime rate (the number of crimes based on the population at risk), however, may actually have decreased. Other factors that need to be taken into account are increases in the law enforcement presence often made possible through casino tax revenue, which can improve the effectiveness of crime detection efforts, as well as relative trends in crime rates statewide or nationwide.(7)
- National Opinion Research Center, et al., Gambling Impact and Behavior Study, report prepared for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (Chicago: University of Chicago, April 1, 1999), 70.
- Public Sector Gaming Study Commission, Gambling Policy and the Role of the State (Tallahassee, Fla.: Florida Institute of Government, Florida State University, March 2000), 37.
- Peter Reuter, The Impact of Casinos on Crime and other Social Problems: An Analysis of Recent Experiences, Report for the Greater Baltimore Committee (College Park, Md.: University of Maryland, January 1997), iv.
- Crime and Gaming: A Statement of Findings, submission to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Sept. 11, 1998.
- See National Gambling Impact Study Commission testimony of Peter Verniero, New Jersey attorney general, Jan. 21, 1998; Mayor Donald Sandridge, Alton, Ill., May 20, 1998; Bob Waterbury, Mississippi Coast Crime Commission, Sept. 10, 1998; and Mayor Ann Hutchinson, Bettendorf, Iowa, May 20, 1998; See also New Jersey Casino Control Commission report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, 29.
- Anthony Marino, South Jersey Transportation Authority, Chart of Atlantic City Crime Index Data: 1977 to 2001.
- Jay Albanese, “The Effect of Casino Gambling on Crime,” Federal Probation (1985): 42-43. See also Daniel Curran and Frank Scarpitti, “Crime in Atlantic City: Do Casinos Make A Difference?” Deviant Behavior 12 (1991): 431-449.