Study Shows Philly Casino Did Not Increase Crime

A study by researchers at Drexel University and Temple University shows that the opening of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse casino had no effect on the crime rate.

A joint study by two Philadelphia universities disproves the myth that opening casinos causes an increase in local crime.

Researchers at Drexel University and Temple University used geolocated crime data to examine crime rates in the immediate Fishtown neighborhood where SugarHouse Casino opened in 2010, and found that the opening of the casino had no effect on the crime rate.

Titled “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime,” the study was published online on by Palgrave MacMillan’s Security Journal, a peer-reviewed journal for security researchers and professionals. It is expected to run in an upcoming print issue of the journal.

The study was conducted by Dr. Lallen T. Johnson, an assistant professor of criminal justice in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Jerry H. Ratcliffe, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University.

“The arrival of the gaming industry to the city of Philadelphia was met with much controversy and protest,” said Johnson. “In particular, anti-casino community activists and organizations believed that gambling would lead to increased crime and disorder. Early discussions about the arrival of SugarHouse revolved around whether the added tax revenue would outweigh the social cost of the expected increased crime. Although reasonable concerns, our findings suggest that these negative expectations did not play out in this case.”

To examine neighborhood-level crime-causing effects of a casino, the researchers analyzed 96 months of crime incident data to determine the extent to which crime counts changed within the Fishtown neighborhood after the casino’s opening. The study focused on violent street felonies, vehicle crime, residential burglary and drug crime.

“Prior studies of casinos and crime have considered the influence of gaming establishments on entire cities or counties,” Johnson said. “This study, on the other hand, is the first to examine how casinos influence crime at the neighborhood level. This is particularly important considering that SugarHouse is situated near residential developments. The study also looked at whether crime was displaced to surrounding areas after opening.”

Key findings included the following:

• 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.

The researcher concluded that there was no evidence that the opening and operation of the casino had a significantly detrimental effect on the immediate neighborhood in terms of violent street felonies, vehicle crime, residential burglary or drug crimes.

“It is important to revitalize urban areas without inadvertently creating criminal opportunities,” Ratcliffe said. “With no increases in violence, burglary or drug crime, we hope that the community and the police are reassured by these findings.”

The study was funded internally.