Forecasts of increased crime with casino prove inaccurate

April 5, 2021 | G. Michael Dobbs

You may recall that during the referendum battle a few years ago to determine if the residents of Massachusetts really wanted casino gambling, folks who opposed the casinos advocated arguments we would see an increase in gambling addiction and the social ills that come from that, along with an increase in crime.

In 2014, Bay Staters rejected that question that would have repealed the 2011 law that made casino gaming legal here.

Let’s face it though, questions remained after that vote and remain now.

There were three main concerns people in neighboring – and not so neighboring – communities  had about the Springfield casino.

One of those concerns was traffic in and around the city of Springfield. Longmeadow, for instance, expressed worries that folks from northern Connecticut would be zipping along Route 5 through Longmeadow from the Enfield area to get to the casino.

There was at least one business in Springfield’s South End that moved to Chicopee for fear the traffic would be so bad the business would suffer.

Another concern was the effect MGM Springfield would have on the existing entertainment and night life businesses in the region. Northampton, for instance, was looking for mitigation money because it was believed the 24/7 nature of the casino would negatively affect the city’s entertainment industry, which attracts people from around the Pioneer Valley.

A 2013 report commissioned by Northampton concluded, “The ‘low case’ assumes a roughly 4 percent loss in ‘recreational spending’ sales and the ‘high case’ assumes a roughly 8 percent loss in sales. Taking into consideration the indirect effects of this loss (i.e. the secondary and tertiary follow-on impacts), the total impact on the city will range from $4.4 million to $8.8 million in lost sales, 90 to 180 lost jobs, and $1.6 million to $3.2 million in lost earnings.”

This report was conducted five years before MGM Springfield opened. Gee, I’d like to have a job that was predicting business conditions before the business in question was even started.

In 2017, a year before opening, the Gaming Commission approved $100,000 to fund a marketing campaign for Northampton to attract visitors to the casino to visit attractions in that city.

My question to Northampton readers is, did this marketing effort work and was there a drop in visitors to the city because of the casino? Was this an actual issue? Send me an email.

The third talking point was the potential increase in crime. There were many people who believe there would be an increase in crime due to people wanting money for gambling and criminals taking advantage of the casino patrons.

According to the recent report, there has not been an increase in crime. I’m sure that conclusion shocked people who expected the South End of Springfield would become a desolate urban landscape such as Atlantic City, NJ. If you’ve been to Atlantic City – I was there in the late 1970s and then several times since – you know that casinos were not the solution to its economic development challenges.

Seldom have I visited a bleaker place.

Springfield, though, has not rested all of its economic development hopes on one thing, though.

Downtown Springfield has suffered less from MGM Springfield than it has from the pandemic, which kicked all too many businesses in the throat.

I realize that for many, many people in the Pioneer Valley it’s more fashionable to kick Springfield and the casino. It’s much more entertaining, apparently, for people to criticize something they may not know too much about than it is to actually find out the truth.

If we required people to actually do research about their opinions, social media would collapse, though.

So, if you want to visit the casino here, that’s great. Take a look at the other attractions in the city. If it’s not of interest, that’s great, too. We would still want you to come and visit our museums, restaurants and other businesses.

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