SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – From Pennsylvania to Maine, Ohio to Rhode Island, there are dozens of casinos surrounding us, and yet its still unknown how a casino would really impact us in Massachusetts.
As voters get ready to head to the polls here, 22News I-Team Reporter Ryan Walsh traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to investigate a casino’s impact there, while I took a ride north to Oxford Maine where a casino just went in two years ago.
Oxford is very different from Springfield in that it has a population of 4,200 people compared to Springfield’s 153,000. In fact it’s more comparable to Sunderland, Mass. where 3,600 people live. However, it is like Springfield in that they just went through the process to bring this casino to town, only they’re now starting to see its impact.
We found out first if people are visiting. “All of the traffic that was projected, has been fulfilled,” said John Williams, Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce.
Williams said as expected, their new casino is drawing people into Oxford from the surrounding region, including Massachusetts, and it’s not only attracting people. “We’ve had two restaurants open in the last 12 months, we have a number of retail outlets that are in the works. We are talking to developers about the possibility of having an anchor mall.”
When this casino went in two years ago, it was proposed to be resort-style with convention center and hotel. Right now, there’s no convention center or hotel. Those plans are on hold while the town here works on its utility system. Construction is, however, underway for a private hotel across the street.
The I-Team also traveled to Paris, which is the town next to Oxford, to find out how surrounding communities are impacted. “We have, probably, 30-40 percent more traffic coming through our main street which is a bit of a problem for the traffic pattern, it wasn’t designed for that kind of load,” said Amy Bernard, Paris Town Manager.
Bernard says the traffic is a safety concern and they’re now working with the state to rectify the issue.
As for crime, Oxford’s police chief says they average about 120 calls to the casino a year, or 10 calls a month. “Most of them are traffic-related incidents and sometimes we have a trespass issue or intoxication issues, but no major crimes,” said Jon Tibbetts, Oxford Police Chief.
“No prostitution, no drug dealing or anything like that. That may come with a hotel but with just a casino we don’t have it yet.” He says they’ve also had a few OUI’s, but said all in all, the casino is no different than any other major business.
Williams says the casino has fulfilled the revenue requirements the state set in order for it to open. Now, Maine is considering adding more casinos.
So the takeaway here is that surrounding communities did see an increase in traffic and crime went up the way it would if a new shopping mall went it. The casino has attracted new business, and the town manager also told us the value of commercial property near the area has doubled and tripled in some cases.