The casino crime blotter

December 31, 2013 9:34 am

It has been a while since this blog did a post on the crimes that take place at casinos. But that is not because there has been a sudden drop in crime. In fact, publishing a daily casino crime blotter could be a full-time job.

Just consider this random sampling of recent casino crimes:

* Cyber criminals hacked into the computer systems at casinos in Colorado, Missouri, Iowa and Nevada between March and October and stole thousands of gamblers’ credit card data.

* Two Santa Rosa men were arrested in connection with a Christmas Eve robbery outside the Graton Resort and Casino in Sonoma County.

* A Santa Rosa man who was wanted by federal authorities for a number of drug-related offenses was arrested at the same casino in Sonoma County.

* A worker at the Horseshoe Casino in Ohio and two others were indicted for theft in a scheme that enabled them to spends thousands of dollars gambling for free.

* A card dealer at the same Ohio casino sued her employer alleging she was sexually harassed by gamblers and her supervisors did nothing to stop it.

The crimes underscore studies that show crime rates increase where casinos open. In addition to crimes, the number of personal bankruptcies, suicides, and divorces also increase when casinos come to town. It is a reminder of the social and economic costs that come with casinos. Those costs undermine the increased tax revenue that governments get from casinos and raise the question of why lawmakers would enable public policies that harm citizens when they take an oath to protect them.

Casinos: The Not So Wonderful Life

December 23, 2013 11:23 am

Lawmakers continue to push to legalize casinos, but many towns are starting to turn against the gambling halls. Many view casinos like landfills and nuclear power plants: not something they want in their backyard.

Milford, Mass. – a town Time Magazine likened to the fictional version of Bedford Falls from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – recently voted down plans for a $1 billion casino. Many understand casinos are more Pottersville than viable economic development.

“It didn’t take long to be convinced that this was not good for a small town,” Steve Trettel, co-chair of the group Casino-Free Milford, told Time. “If you want to get right down to the root of it, that’s really it.”

Milford is not alone. New or expanded gambling halls have been voted down in Oregon, Rhode Island and Maine. Disney and other business interests are leading an effort to block casinos from coming to Florida.

Even Gov. Deval Patrick – who led the effort to legalize casinos in Massachusetts – said he would vote against a casino if it were ever proposed for the Berkshires town where he has a second home. If gambling is such a good policy than why doesn’t Patrick want a casino near his home? Gov. Patrick also filed suit to block a native-American tribe from opening a casino on upscale Martha’s Vineyard.

What a hypocrite.

Ohio casinos a harbinger for Florida

December 17, 2013 6:47 am

Gambling supporters who expect big bucks from casinos in Florida may want to take a look at Ohio.

The casinos in Ohio have failed to deliver on the more than $1 billion in projected annual tax revenue. Often gambling revenues drop off after several years of steady increases. But the Ohio casinos have disappointed from day one. (See this story in the Columbus Dispatch.)

One of the problems is the gambling market is getting saturated. Many states already have casinos, so there is little need for gamblers to travel elsewhere. Since Florida already has lots of gambling options, any increase in spending by residents is expected to be marginal. And that’s using the best-case figures from a study by Spectrum Gaming, a pro-casino group hired by the state. It is also worth noting that Spectrum did the study for Ohio that has proven to be way off. When it comes to gambling studies, supporters often over promise and under deliver.

Considering the added tax revenue is the main reason lawmakers argue for casinos, it is hard to make the case that more casinos in Florida is a good idea – as this blog post makes clear. If the state is just going to get more social and economic costs and marginal financial benefit than why bother? Other states have found that gambling is not a cure for budget woes.

Taking on casino creep

December 12, 2013 9:43 am

The casino industry used the economic downturn to push its way into a number of states where lawmakers are desperate to generate new tax revenue and create jobs despite the long-term costs of gambling. Now, there are signs that taxpayers are pushing back against the casino creep.

In Massachusetts, residents have collected enough signatures to call for a vote to repeal the 2011 casino law. This clears a major hurdle in the effort to stop the spread of casinos in Massachusetts, but repeal supporters still have to convince the state’s highest court to overturn an earlier ruling by Attorney General Martha Coakley that the proposed question is unconstitutional.

Scott Harshbarger, the state’s former attorney general, is helping to lead the fight. More amazing, the three lawmakers who drove the casino effort – Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray – have each said they do not want a casino in their respective hometowns. What does that say about the industry?

At the very least, the grassroots effort has placed casinos among the top issues in the race for governor in Massachusetts. Several candidates have said they are opposed to casinos. Meanwhile, casino opponents are gearing up for another fight to stop the spread of casinos in New Hampshire. Check out Casino Free New Hampshire’s 30 reasons to oppose casinos.

A group in Florida, that is funded in part by Disney, is continuing to fight the effort to legalize commercial casinos in the Sunshine state. Polls show residents are evenly divided on the issue. Former state lawmaker Paula Dockery provides an overview of the political landscape in Florida here.