Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino
Prior to the 2010 opening of the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, community groups warned that the casino would lead to an increase in neighborhood crime. However, according to a news release posted on July 16th by Drexel University, a new study by two Philadelphia researchers “reveals that these concerns were unfounded.”
That claim is based on this conclusion in the study:
In summary, there is no evidence that the opening and operation of the casino had a significantly detrimental effect on the immediate neighborhood in terms of vehicle crime, drug activity, residential burglary or violent street felonies.
The SugarHouse crime study is entitled “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime;” it was conducted by by Lallen T. Johnson, PhD, an assistant professor of criminal justice in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Jerry H. Ratcliffe, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University; and was published online on by Palgrave MacMillan’s Security Journal. For coverage in the popular press, see “Study says crime has not risen around SugarHouse Casino” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Vernon Clark, July 19, 2014); “No Crime Increase Around SugarHouse: Study (NBC10 Philadelphia, July 19, 2014). And see, “The Elusive link between casinos and crime” (Pacific-Standard Magazine: The Science of Society, by Lauren Kirchner, July 29, 2014), which ignores the many weaknesses of the study.
You can safely bet that we are going to hear about this study here in Schenectady, because SugarHouse is operated by Rush Street Gaming and owned by SugarHouse HSP Gaming, LP, which is primarily controlled by Neil Bluhm and his family. (see Pa. Gaming Board ownership listing, at 13-15). Rush Street Gaming and Bluhm are, of course, the applicants seeking to build a casino in Schenectady. We are, of course, opponents who have raised concerns over increased crime in the nearby neighborhood. [update (August 4, 2014): See “a few things the Gazette forgot to mention“, discussing a claim made to the Schenectady Gazette that the area around SugarHouse “got safer” after the casino opened.]
As indicated above, Johnson and Ratcliffe looked at four categories of crime: violent street felonies, vehicle crime (both theft of vehicles and break-ins), drug crime, and residential burglary in the surrounding community. [They did not look at DUI or prostitution, two crimes on the short list of worries in the vicinity of an urban casino.] Their data covered 80 months prior to the opening of the casino and 16 months after the opening. The authors hoped their work would help answer a perennial question among crime scientists:
Has the casino’s presence led to increased crime in the immediate area and if not, has crime been simply displaced to nearby locations?
Prior studies have looked at crime statistics at a city or county level. Here, the authors used “geolocated crime data” to examine changes in crime volume in the immediate neighborhood of the casino since its opening; that “casino patrol area” covered an area one-half mile square. They also looked at crime data for a “displacement area” just outside the “casino patrol area” to see whether the casino or related security and policing had positive or negative effects on that nearby area. (see Figure 1) The displacement area was about the same size as the casino patrol area.
Note: using the same distances as those in the study, one half-mile square, the Stockade District’s southeastern border would fall at the line between the casino patrol area and the displacement area, placing virtually the entire Stockade neighborhood within that potential displacement zone. See Map at the foot of this posting. Union College’s campus and its College Park off-campus housing complex are also within the endangered areas.
- Figure 1 from SugarHouse Crime Study: map showing data areas -
Ninety-six months of crime incident data were examined to determine the extent to which crime counts changed within the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown after the opening of a new casino. As stated in the Drexel U. Press Release below, key findings include (emphasis added):
- Violent street felonies increased at a rate slightly greater than violence in the control area; however, this increase was not statistically significant when examined in the context of the longer trend since 2004.
- Vehicle crime decreased in the casino area; however, there was substantial displacement and the reductions in vehicle crime were not statistically significant over the long term.
- Both residential burglary and drug crime decreased in the casino area (again though, not significantly from a statistical perspective) and there were reductions in these crimes in the buffer areas.
Reading that set of Key Findings does not leave me quite as sure as the headlines suggest that we can stop being concerned about more neighborhood crime if Schenectady gets a casino. Living in the Stockade District, which is in the “displacement zone” of the proposed Schenectady casino, it is difficult to ignore the large increase in vehicle-related crimes. The authors say the increase was not significant “over the long term,” which clearly suggests that it was significant in the short-term, where we actually reside, stroll the neighborhood, buy insurance, watch house price trends, etc.
The authors also say (at 14), regarding “displacement” to the nearby neighborhood:
“The displacement findings are interesting. In anticipation of the casino opening, the 26th Police District commander created the special patrol district, to which were assigned additional police officers. The increased police attention in the special patrol area may have led to the displacement of vehicle crime to the surrounding area. Officers that were re-assigned to the patrol area were not replaced in the rest of the district. It is possible that the relative reduction in personnel outside of the casino area reduced patrol deterrence in the displacement area, while suppressing crime in the target area.”
In their conclusion, Johnson and Ratcliffe modestly state the obvious:
“Findings here do not settle the debate on casino and crime linkages, but contribute to a growing body of knowledge and suggest a need for more neighborhood level research. At the least, findings demonstrate that oft-stated community concerns regarding local crime conditions with the addition of a casino to a neighborhood were not borne out by the SugarHouse Casino example.
Reason for Concern? Yes. For one thing, some types of crime out of the four categories studied did go up. The study states:
- “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area.” And,
- “Vehicle crime decreased in the target area relative to the control area; however, there was substantial displacement indicating that the introduction of the casino made the vehicle crime problem in the combined treatment/buffer area worse than before the casino was opened.”
Beyond those worrisome increases, the failure to include DUI and prostitution is quite significant. We expect a major increase in vehicles cutting through the Stockade, with drivers who have been drinking for hours, or weary employees and interns, using its narrow, dark streets as a way to avoid scrutiny on the well-lit Erie Boulevard, or simply to take the shorter route to SCCC or the bridge to Scotia and destinations heading west on Route 5. And, we believe the Stockade’s shadowy streets and available apartments are ready-made for the expected increase in prostitution once the casino starts operation.
Furthermore, we need to ask whether the experience in a city 20 times larger than Schenectady can tell us much about what would happen here. That issue, in all its facets, needs quite a bit of thought.
More important from a practical point of view, however, is the fact that Johnson and Ratcliffe admit their findings/conclusions are, “Net of unexamined police patrol changes and casino opening simultaneity effects.” I have nothing useful to add on the issue of the “opening simultaneity effects,” but it appears that the “unexamined police patrol changes” may indeed be significant. Thus, the very last sentence of the study states (emphasis added):
“Any potential significant crime increases either did not occur, or were effectively controlled by a reassignment of existing local police resources.”
That small word “or” raises big questions. Here’s how the authors describe the police patrol changes that occurred in September 2010:
“When the casino opened in September 2010, the 26th Police District created a special casino patrol area. This area of slightly less than half a square mile (shown in Figure 1) is patrolled by one sergeant and 13 officers who provide coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
It seems to this layperson, that 14 additional officers covering an area one-half mile square in shifts that take time of day and other conditions into account, might indeed have a significant deterrent effect. In addition, the Casino itself is required by the Gaming Commission to have at least 3 uniformed security men at the door, and has as many as 7 more in the parking lot at night. Furthermore, the State Police cover the floor of the casino. As the authors might say, there are a lot of crime managers and guardians on hand in an effort to prevent crime.
Therefore, it appears that we at the very least need to add a big asterisk to those headlines about no increase in crime, and include a footnote with the caveat: “if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a Police Casino Squad, or to leave other parts of town under-policed.”
According to SalaryWiz.com, the medium total compensation package for a patrol officer in Schenectady is $71,965. When we add the sergeant’s pay to that of his 13 underlings, a 14-officer squad would cost a little over $1 million to replicate in Schenectady. Would our thrifty City Council pull some of the already scarce night-time patrols from other neighborhoods to keep the Casino Patrol Area adequately staffed?
Such considerations turn this disclaimer by the authors into a major understatement:
“First, we should note that this is not a stand-alone quasi-experimental evaluation of the introduction of a casino to a neighborhood, due to the additional complication of the Philadelphia Police Department instigating a dedicated patrol to the neighborhood. The additional patrolling from 14 assigned officers may have acted to provide additional deterrence to any criminal activity.”
Johnson & Ratcliffe then say they cannot test in this study “Whether this is sufficient additional patrol for an area to have any impact.” Most of us would hazard a guess that the patrol is indeed a significant deterrent with a meaningful impact on the crime rates. And, in the Schenectady context, we would strongly disagree with the authors’ cavalier conclusion “that any additional resources were modest at best.”
So, we’ll be leaving our Crime Will Increase listing up on the Issues Page. And, we’ll wonder, as we did all Spring, why only Councilman Vincent Riggi thought the City needed to do an analysis of the additional expenses it would be likely to incur if we had a casino operating at the old ALCO site.
I’m going to let our readers answer the headline question at the top of this posting for themselves.
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- wikimapia map of the Casino-East Front-Stockade neighborhood; click on the image for a larger versioin -