Opponents tended to stress the social problems believed to result from casinos and the change in the nature of the community itself, as many expected the gambling industry would become a major force in the daily life and politics of the community. Crime, divorce, bankruptcy, and a change in traditional community values were seen as problems that would inevitably accompany casino legalization.
Empirical foundation was missing. Voters and policy makers were often unable to separate rhetoric from reality, for research on many of the key questions was incomplete or totally lacking. Consequently, I of the goals of the current research was to provide an objective and multi-dimensioned assessment of the impact of casino gambling in new casino jurisdictions. To accomplish this, a research team composed of an economist and two criminologists, assisted by demographers and experts in survey research completed perhaps the most intensive community based research ever conducted on new casino jurisdictions. The communities were chosen because each had recently initiated casino gambling and law enforcement officials were willing to make available Part I and Part II crime data for four years before and four years after the casinos began operation.
The communities ranged in population from 22,385 for East Peoria and 32,905 for Alton, Illinois, to 1 13,504 for Peoria and 396,685 for the city of St. Louis of the communities lost population from 1980 to 1990 (Bureau of the Census, 1992). Each community has a riverboat, with the exception of Biloxi, Ms., which has nine casinos located on stationary barges. These barge casinos tend to be larger than the riverboat casinos and their size and concentration in Biloxi have resulted in the casinos and the tourists they draw playing a much larger role in Biloxi than in the other communities studied. The other extreme is St. Louis, a relatively large city with a single riverboat casino, although several others are in nearby communities. In St. Louis, unlike some of the other communities included in the study, their riverboat casino has relatively little impact on tourism and on the overall economy.
Despite the level of acrimony generated by the casino legalization debate, an Significant findings of the research indicate that most community leaders in the new casino jurisdictions believe that the casinos have been good for the communities, although 10% to 20% of the leaders saw casinos as a negative influence. The casinos do not appear to have any general or dramatic effect on crime, especially in communities that do not have a high concentration of casinos. The data indicate that minor crimes are more likely to increase in casino communities than are the index offenses, although there is little consistency in types of crimes that significantly change when all the new jurisdictions are compared.
Bankruptcy does appear to be influenced, ‘with a significant increase in rate of personal bankruptcy found in five of seven communities. In only one community did divorce significantly increase, while it significantly decreased in four of the eight casino communities? Suicide increased significantly in two casino communities, and significantly decreased in one. The findings suggest that casinos do not affect all communities in a simple, similar, or non variant fashion. The evidence suggests that casinos appear to be neither as good for a community as supporters contend, nor as negative as opponents argue. More detailed descriptions of the research and findings are presented in summary form below. There were three main components of the research plan. The first component consisted of site visits to each of the eight communities selected for inclusion in the study.
Research teams composed of an economist and one or two criminologists visited each community and sought to interview community leaders to get their views on why casino gambling was introduced into the community and their perspective on the impact the casino had on their community. A broad spectrum of community leaders were interviewed, from mayors to police chiefs and heads of social service agencies, to get feedback from leaders representing diverse perspectives. A second .-major component of the research consisted of telephoning several hundred residents in each community to obtain their opinions regarding the impact of the casino on the community and their views on how the casino affected day to day living within the community. The survey consisted of a variety of open ended as well as fixed response questions covering, among other topics, questions concerning their gambling experiences, whether the casino changed their neighborhoods, and whether they knew individuals who were problem gamblers.
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