You Bet Your Life


Casinos provide entertainment, employment and extra cash for lucky betters. But statistics show that they also deal local communities a bad hand.

Between 1990 and 1996, the number of counties in the United States with casinos skyrocketed from 26 to 167--and crime in those areas shot up significantly, as well.

David Mustard, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's Terry School of Business, and Earl Grinols, Ph.D., a professor of economics at the University of Illinois, examined crime statistics in all 3,165 U.S. counties between 1977 and 1996. Offenses such as rape, aggravated assault, robbery and property damage generally declined in the year a casino was introduced to a town, likely because it stimulated economic development and made jobs available, says Mustard. "But over time," he explains, "shady, unattractive things begin to happen." Local crime rates returned to average after three years and went up thereafter: The number of aggravated assaults in gambling counties, for example, increased by 112 five years after the casinos opened there.

One reason may be that the slots and tables attract unsavory characters. "The people who go to Las Vegas are very different from those who go to Orlando," Mustard points out.

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But casinos also tend to draw problem and pathological gamblers. Gambling addicts "will often charge things on their credit cards, dipping into savings when that runs out," he notes. "Then they start borrowing. Eventually their resources are exhausted" and they turn to violent measures to pay their debts which, he says, explains why crime statistics only shoot up after several years.

Mustard suggests that counties considering casinos weigh this information before taking a roll of the dice.

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