July 25, 2014 by Kristin Schrier
Drexel criminal justice professor Lallen T. Johnson and Temple University criminal justice department chair Jerry H. Ratcliffe published a study June 30 that concluded that the SugarHouse Casino, built amid controversy in 2010 in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, has had negligible effect on crime in the area.
The research was titled, “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime,” and published online in the Security Journal.
The study, which examined 96 months of crime data, looked at changes in violent street felonies, vehicle crime, drug crime and residential burglary. The researchers determined that despite the fears of anti-casino activists, there were no significant increases in any of those categories.
“We gathered crime data from the Philadelphia Police Department from 2004 to 2011,” Johnson explained in an email. “A time series analysis was used to determine if there was a significant increase in crime trends after September 2010 (the opening month of the casino).”
While the casino has had no significant negative impact on crime rates in the area, the findings suggest mixed results with respect to the various crime categories that were examined. There was evidence that vehicle crime was displaced into the immediate community and that violent street felonies increased in the surrounding area, but these changes were proven to be statistically insignificant.
“We conducted an analysis to determine if any of the crime types were merely displaced to the surrounding community,” Johnson wrote. “Results indicated no statistically significant effect of the casino’s operation on any of the above four crime categories in the immediate community.”
This research supports a long-held belief by many in the casino industry, such as Drexel hospitality and tourism instructor Robert Ambrose, who was involved in the design and construction of an Indiana casino in 2007.
“The casino environment is 24/7. That means customer activity, positioning of security technology and security personnel. And like all other local casino property’s [sic], a very strong working relationship with the local and state police that patrol the area near the casino,” Ambrose wrote in an email. “Local casino operators are community partners. They provide jobs, purchase goods and services and want to be a good neighbor.”
Johnson emphasizes that it is important to examine the effects of casinos on neighborhood crime, as well as on a broader spectrum. Findings such as these can provide a new perspective from which to view the debate surrounding the issue of further casino licenses within the city of Philadelphia.
“In spite of relatively positive findings, it would be premature to generalize the findings of this study to other neighborhoods with casinos,” Johnson cautioned. “Instead this study shows that it is important to study potential linkages between casinos and crime at multiple levels of analysis (neighborhood, city, county, state).”
As criminologists, Johnson and Ratcliffe thought it was important to design empirical research that would either refute or substantiate the claims made by anti-casino activists that the construction of a casino would lead to increased crime rates. Now, nearly four years after the opening of SugarHouse, their research is relevant in the debate over where to issue Philadelphia’s next casino license.
“As far as issuing the last casino license in Philadelphia, I would assume we are getting close to the end of that process,” Ambrose wrote. “The [Pennsylvania] Gaming Commission is reviewing a broad criteria to select a casino operation that they feel will be not only the best choice for the city but also for the local community.”
The casino industry is poised for growth in Philadelphia; SugarHouse recently broke ground for a $164 million expansion and proposals have been submitted to open casinos in various locations around the city, including one above Market East Station.