Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Casino Impacts: Keeping Count

By David Collins Published on 7/29/2009

A new study of the impacts of gambling on Connecticut, commissioned by the General Assembly, doesn't produce a lot of surprises for the people of southeastern Connecticut, who already know that the towns near Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun bear more of the costs and see less of the state's share of revenue from the two casinos.

And yet there are many interesting, illuminating statistics in the 400-page report that show some of the ways the casinos have changed the culture here over the last 17 years.

From increased road repairs to new English-as-a-second-language school programs to teach the children of casino workers, towns across the region reported increasing casino-related expenses.

In Norwich, for instance, schools have four times as many Asian-American students than they did in 1993, due in large part to the migration of casino workers from New York's Chinatown. Asian-Americans now make up 7 percent of the school population.

One of five residents of Norwich now works at one of the casinos, according to the report by the Spectrum Gaming Group of Linwood, N.J.

Norwich Free Academy, the city's high school, estimates its annual casino-related costs at $600,000. Montville says it spends an additional $300,000 in language programs for its schools.

The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich reported losing as much as $1 million in treating uninsured people brought from the casinos.

Local prosecutors, asked to keep track of one month of casino-related cases in the Part B section of Superior Court, which is for less-serious crimes, counted 27 last August, but said there were probably more. The casinos pay much of the state's expenses for policing the casinos but not for the prosecution of crimes.

The gaming report identified four suicides linked to the casinos since 2000 and said there could have been more.

Southeastern Connecticut also shouldered more than its fair share of a remarkable increase in embezzlement cases in the state. Police made 43 embezzlement arrests in 1991, the year before Foxwoods opened, and they made 214 in 2007, the report says.

The state's increase is nearly 10 times that of the national average.

As I've suggested before, perhaps the black Submarine Capital of the World sign off Interstate 95 in Groton could be changed to one shaped like a slot machine, announcing this as the Embezzlement Capital of the World.

But the most troubling of all the statistics in the gambling report may be those related to the high number of drunk driving arrests made on roads leading to and from the casino. Towns here have seen sharp increases in drunken driving cases even while they've been declining elsewhere around the state.

Norwich, for example, had 129 drunken driving cases in 1992 and 252 in 2008. There were 37 in Montville in 1992 and 116 in 2007. And yet Mansfield, a town with a similar population to Montville's, had only 64 arrests in 2007.

The Montville State Police barracks, Troop E, has conducted far more drunken driving investigations than any other barracks in the state, a total of 2,713 between 2003 and 2007, compared to the next highest, Westbrook, with 1,629 investigations.

The report authors said they asked police to trace the arrests in Ledyard, Montville and North Stonington to see if they are casino-related.

They were told that nearly one of four in Ledyard, one of three in North Stonington and one of five in Montville were casino-related, based on where drivers reported having their last drink. About 20 percent of the drivers did not answer the question.

Mohegan Sun, which has the worst liquor-law violation record of the two casinos, tightened its drink-serving policies this spring after two fatal accidents were linked to drinking there.

It will be interesting to see, over time, whether both casinos are doing enough to curb what is clearly an intolerable amount of drunken driving on southeastern Connecticut roads.

Of course the report doesn't look exclusively at the negative impacts of the casino and devotes considerable discussion to the positive impact they've had, importing money from outside the Connecticut economy, creating jobs and purchasing goods and services.

Slot royalties to the state, after all, totaled $411 million in the 2008 fiscal year, even though southeastern Connecticut towns didn't get much of a share.

But it's important to not to lose sight of the costs that come with the casino money, especially when we're paying a lot of them around here.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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