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Crime more frequent in casinos than on Atlantic City streets


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (BP)–Visitors to Atlantic City are
“more likely to become victims of crime while gambling than
while walking city streets,” according to a December special
report in The Press of Atlantic City daily newspaper.
Citing state police statistics not previously specified
for crimes in casinos, the newspaper reported, “More than
half of the city’s 10,510 reported crimes last year (1996)
— 5,705, to be exact — occurred on the gaming floors of
the city’s 12 casino hotels. Virtually all of those casino
reports were for nonviolent larceny thefts, such as picked
pockets, snatched purses and stolen coin cups.”
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission,
meanwhile, ventured to Atlantic City Jan. 21 in the first of
a series of visits this year to major gambling centers
across the country. The nine-member commission was created
by Congress last year to examine the social and economic
consequences of the nation’s $40-billion-a-year legalized
gambling industry, and complete its study in June 1999.
The commission is chaired by Kay Coles James, dean of
Regent University’s school of government in Virginia and a
former official in the Bush administration. Commission
members range from family advocate James Dobson of Focus on
the Family to J. Terrence Lanni, chairman and chief
executive of the Nevada-based MGM Grand casino and hotel
company.
During its hearings Jan. 21, the commission heard a
compulsive gambler, who requested anonymity, testify, “All I
wanted to do was gamble, and then I graduated to a new level
of getting money: not by working (but) by conning and
cheating, robbing prostitutes on Atlantic Avenue, taking
them back to the rooms that I was getting comp (free casino
hotel accommodations) at 17 years old.” His testimony was
recounted in Focus on the Family’s Citizen Issues Alert Jan.
27.
From the pro-casino perspective, Citizen Issues Alert
reported that Kevin Anderson, a member of the Hotel
Employees and Restaurant Employees’ International Union,
Local 54, told the commission, “Casino gambling has given
myself and my seven younger brothers and sisters a life that
we never could have dreamed of.”
The Press of Atlantic City, in its mid-December report,
noted that gaming officials and law-enforcement experts
described the casino-crime figures in Atlantic City as low,
considering the gambling mecca’s estimated 34 million
visitors in 1996, but the newspaper also quoted Jon’a Meyer,
a law professor at Rutgers University law school, Camden,
N.J., as calling the figure “astonishingly high” no matter
how many people visit the city.
“That’s a lot of pickpockets,” Meyer told The Press.
“The state needs to release more information, like who is
committing these thefts — local people, other casino
patrons, et cetera.”
Rich Procaccino, captain of the state police casino
bureau, told The Press, however, that as many as 80 percent
of the casino incidents “do not represent what we consider
valid crimes, because we can’t validate them.”
Customers often claim they’ve been victimized but
police can find no proof, Procaccino told the newspaper. A
smaller percentage of customers, he said, file false reports
to manufacture excuses for gambling losses.
The Press quoted Daniel Wright, director of security
operations at Caesars Atlantic City, as saying, “About 40 to
50 percent of those (crimes) are lost or mislaid items. An
individual walks away from his wallet, pocketbook or jacket,
comes back some time later and the items are not there.”
Said Wright, “The story ends up very nicely if security
picks it up. If someone else does, it turns into a
statistic.”
In terms of violent crime, casinos reported 26 such
crimes in 1996, compared to 863 for the rest of Atlantic
City, The Press reported.
The newspaper also cited casino-floor crime figures
released by the state attorney general, showing that casino
crime increased by 26 percent from 1994-96 in Atlantic City
while crime elsewhere in the city decreased by 7 percent.
The average rate of all casino incidents in 1996 was 1.3
crimes per casino per day.
The American Gaming Association, meanwhile, has
released a study concluding, “… there is no direct link
between gaming and crime.”
The study’s author, former Assistant U.S. Attorney
Jeremy Margolis, acknowledged to The Press, however, that he
was not aware of the number of casino-specific crimes.
According to the Atlantic City newspaper, the AGA study
found that the overall Atlantic City crime rate per person,
when considering the 34 million visitors annually, has
decreased since the introduction of casino gambling. That
conclusion is supported by data released by the New Jersey
Casino Control Commission, the newspaper reported.