March 15, 2010

Larceny is the downside of 'fun'

— When the State Police published its compilation of Maine crime statistics for 2006, people took notice of a jump in the rate of property crimes in Penobscot County.

Standing out especially is the number of larcenies, a category of crime that includes embezzlement. They increased from 3326 to 3699 between 2005 and 2006. This 11 percent rise is statistically significant and demands an explanation.

Some casino watchers suggested that the increase might be related to the opening, in late 2005, of Hollywood Slots in Bangor. After all, racinos and casinos derive the vast majority of their revenue from the same source, highly addictive slot machines. Increased rates of gambling addiction is viewed by experts as the main reason for the impact of gambling operations on crime.

The link between gambling and crime is the subject of the article ''Casinos, Crime and Community Costs,'' published in The Review of Economics and Statistics by respected economists Earl Grinols and David Mustard. To view or download the article, go to and click on ''crime.''

The results of this landmark study are the subject of a news story in the Washington Post. Dennis Bailey also wrote about the link between casinos and crime in an article that appeared in September 2007 on the Casinos NO! website, shortly before the publication of the 2006 crime statistics.

In that article, he says:''Slot machines are highly addictive, much more addictive than any other form of gambling. It takes on average more than four years to become addicted to most gambling games. People become addicted to slot machines in as little as 14 months

''It's no coincidence that before casinos came to southeastern Connecticut, larcenies and embezzlement were due almost entirely to drug addiction. Now according to police, 95 percent of those cases are rooted to another kind of addiction - slot machines.

''Already in Bangor, a man who allegedly stole more than $20,000 from his employer was arrested after he lost it all at Hollywood Slots, the first of many such cases to come.''

Grinols and Mustard used data from the FBI crime database and looked at the trends in crime rates in every county in the United States, both with casinos and without, over the period from 1977 to 1996, a period when the casino business was experiencing rapid growth.

Most of the histories involved the introduction of a casino into a region which previously had none.

The researchers corrected the raw data to take into account other factors that may also affect crime, such as a major recession. With other factors thus accounted for, they obtained average crime rates at various times following the opening of a casino. They found that, in casino counties, the average rate of all of the eight FBI ''index'' crimes, except murder, followed similar trends, remaining fairly level at first but eventually increasing significantly with time.

The strongest increases are seen in the crime categories most logically connected with the behavior of gamblers.

Compulsive gamblers first exhaust their own resources, and then turn to crime to finance their addiction.

Grinols and Mustard conclude that after five years of casino operation, the average county hosting a casino can expect to see an increase of 615 larcenies per year, per 100,000 population, attributable solely to the operation of the casino.

For Penobscot County, this translates into a net increase, after five years of operation, of 904 larceny offenses per year. If gamblers at Hollywood Slots behave the same as they have in other parts of the country, and there is no reason to expect otherwise, then the increase of 373 larceny offenses in 2006 is just a down payment on the eventual social cost.

Much the same can be said of the crime impact of other gambling venues that might be approved, such as the casino initiative in Oxford County to be on the statewide ballot in November, or the odd proposal for constructing a traditional Maine downtown, plus a casino, in Scarborough.

A poor outcome is made practically certain by the do-nothing attitude of our State Legislature. They have consistently ignored pleas, even from the Gambling Control Board, their own creation, to investigate the social impacts of Hollywood Slots.

If we can't learn from this experience, we are doomed to repeat it.

— Special to the Press Herald

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