Tahoe’s casinos atypical | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe’s casinos atypical

What plays in Peoria may not play in Tahoe.

This was the overriding consensus among some civic and business leaders regarding a recently released University of Nevada, Reno study that evaluates the effects of gambling on communities.

Even the economics professor who researched the crime and quality-of-life questions agreed it would be tough to pigeonhole an area as unique as the Lake Tahoe region in the same category as the six Central and Eastern U.S. cities used in the report. They include Peoria, Ill. and St. Louis, Mo.

“It’s difficult to say how casinos have changed Stateline through the years,” study co-author Mark Nichols said, acknowledging the first significant difference between the cities.

By conducting 2,768 interviews of adults, including social services workers and city officials, Nichols’ team of economists and criminologists focused on towns hosting casinos for more than four years but less than 20. Gambling has been legal in Nevada since 1931.

“If you’re going to Mississippi where (gambling’s) a brand new thing, it’s going to be a shock to the system,” Harrah’s spokesman John Packer said.

And if there are associated problems, there’s not as much of a relationship to gambling as there is to increased population, he suggested.

The city of South Lake Tahoe may have the numbers to back the suggestion. In line with the national average, the associated crime rate has gone down over the last five years by 40 percent, South Lake Tahoe police Chief Brad Bennett said.

“What (casinos do) is create different opportunities for crime, but (having them) hasn’t been a problem (here),” Bennett said, referring to the “24-hour community” that’s sometimes accompanied by alcohol and abusive drugs.

Overall though, Bennett explained that many factors affect crime. There’s the partying environment, along with low-paying service industry jobs.

Money problems, including bankruptcy, appeared to influence five of the seven towns. But Lake Tahoe is not the area to live if you’re down and out, one social services expert pointed out.

“The question is difficult to answer whether casinos create these (social ills) or whether people who have these tendencies tend to gravitate there,” said Kathleen Burne, El Dorado County Mental Health Director.

Burne said her county department sees people who have allowed gambling to negatively affect their lives, but the cases are not as prevalent because this area begs for healthy lifestyles.

Many local leaders would argue there’s no underestimating the benefits of casinos on the economy at the lake.

“(The casinos) have proven to make significant contributions to the community,” Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance Executive Director Steve Teshara said.

There’s documentation to show that even ancillary businesses have greatly benefited from the presence of the casinos, he added.

The study concluded that increased tax revenue and jobs were primary benefits of casinos to cities looking for additional sources of revenue and employment. It also found that community leaders were more optimistic about having the casinos in town than their citizenry.

The notion cities once had that casinos would spur customers to shop heavily in their regions “never really materialized,” Nichols said, using the cities studied and Atlantic City as examples.

Then again, it’s “unfair to expect that from any one industry,” he added.

Like gambling, casinos bring their “ups and downs to communities,” Nichols said. There are perceived negatives as in fear of crime and perceived positives that may exaggerate the benefits.

“Casinos are not as good as proponents would argue or what communities would expect, but not as bad as opponents would want you to believe,” he summarized.

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