I-Team: Real impacts of casino; Bethlehem, PA

(BETHLEHEM, Penn.) – On Election Day, voters will decide to keep the state’s gaming law or repeal it.  In the first of a three part series, the 22News I-Team reveals the real impacts of casinos.

Casino companies are making promises, Repeal the Casino Deal has been stating their case about how casinos ruin communities.

With a vote to potentially repeal Massachusetts’ casino law just days away, The 22News I-Team traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to see how their casino has impacted the city.

Sands opened it’s Bethlehem casino in 2009.  Bethlehem has about 75,000 (74,982) people living there, roughly half the size of Springfield.  The casino employs 2200 workers, 3000 are promised in Springfield.  On average 22,000 people visit the casino each day about 8 Million people a year.

Our first stop was to speak with Bethlehem’s police chief, Mark DiLuzio.

(How has the casino since it’s opened, impacted your cities crime rate?)

“We have seen no major increase, many people said there was going to be an increase in robbery, prostitution, thefts, those types of crimes we haven’t seen it,” said DiLuzio.

(Have you seen any uptick in drunk driving since the casinos’ opened?)

“The areas around the casino we haven’t seen an increase, opposite of what many people had said,” said DiLuzio.

Where the Sands casino is now, is the former home to Bethlehem Steel, they were 2nd largest steel producer in the nation before shutting down in 1995.

(Without the casino, what do you think would be happening at the Bethlehem Steel site?)

“In all honesty, if the Sands was not there we would still be looking at a Brownfield with rusted out buildings, I don’t think we would have any development on that site,” said Bethlehem mayor Robert Donchez.

Mayor Donchez told the 22News I-Team the casino has helped their economy in terms of jobs and economic development, but the benefits haven’t stretched out across the city.

“It’s basically people that come to the casino will just go gamble, maybe eat, maybe shop then go home, maybe that’s a disappointment,” said Donchez.

“A casino is not a magic bullet, it’s not a panacea, it’s not going to solve all of your problems,” said Stephen Thode, Director of the Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies at Lehigh University.

Lehigh University is about 2 miles from the casino.

“What the casino has done is kind of stabilized the cites’ finances,” said Thode.

(What type of impact has the casino had on property taxes?)

“Property taxes are certainly lower than they would have been had the casino not been in place,” said Thode.

The city of Allentown, its roughly the size of Hartford, CT and just 10 miles away from the casino in Bethlehem.  Representatives in Allentown told the 22News I-Team, they receive around $4 million a year from the casino, but it’s had no other positive nor negative impacts on their city.

Bethlehem’s Police Chief  told the 22News I-Team their casino has repaired an area of their city that was littered with homeless squatters and crime.

“If you don’t like the casino it’s never going to change your mind, but these are some of the facts you have to understand about it, it does help the community,” said DiLuzio.

In Bethlehem, in the five years since the casino opened their crime rate has roughly stayed the same, it’s lowered property taxes and stabilized the cities finances, but it has not become an economic catalyst for the rest of the city.

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