BOSTON (AP) — Since Plainridge Park opened last July, communities around Massachusetts’ first casino have seen an uptick in crimes like assault, drunken driving, kidnapping, prostitution, shoplifting and fraud, but much of it does not appear to be directly attributable to the facility, a consultant told gambling regulators Thursday.
Christopher Bruce, a crime analysis expert hired by the state Gaming Commission, said a preliminary review suggests increases in traffic-related infractions like erratic driving, accidents and drunk driving as well as credit card fraud may be linked to the slots parlor and harness racing track’s opening.
But increases in kidnapping, prostitution and other crimes “clearly had nothing to do” with the casino, he said. The surrounding communities also generally didn’t see robberies, burglaries and thefts increase with the facility’s opening, Bruce said.
“Incidents at Plainridge Park are commensurate with expected totals at similar facilities that draw lots of people, have a large parking area, offer retail, entertainment, and dining options, and serve alcohol,” he wrote.
Bruce told regulators more research needs to be done. Other social and economic factors could be at work, like the heroin and opioid epidemic that’s hit New England particularly hard, he suggested.
Eric Schippers, a senior vice president at Penn National Gaming, said the Pennsylvania-based company that owns Plainridge Park is “pleased and proud” the state’s first casino public safety report revealed “no significant negative impacts” as a result of casino operations.
Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the gaming commission, similarly concluded the analysis “does not show that any significant increase in crime was influenced” by the casino’s opening.
The Penn National Gaming-owned facility is the first of four casinos slated to open in Massachusetts by 2018, including much larger developments by MGM, Wynn and an Indian casino financed by the Malaysia-based operators of the Resorts World casino chain.
Thursday’s analysis compared crime data from Plainville, Attleboro, Mansfield, North Attleborough and Wrentham from July to December 2015 against average statistics covering the same period since 2010.
The report, for example, shows that violent crimes like rape, assault and kidnapping were, on the whole, up from an average of about 379 incidents prior to 2015 to 415 from July to December 2015.
But property crimes like burglary, shoplifting and theft were, overall, down from an average of 1,898 incidents prior to 2015 to 1,866 from July to December 2015.
Bruce said some of the increases could be explained by unique circumstances likely not tied to the casino’s presence.
A rise in prostitution could be attributed to two incidents at a hotel in Wrentham, for example. An increase in reported kidnappings appears to have been related to parental custody disputes, he said. And a “serial burglar” in North Attleborough appears to have been a factor in that town’s burglary rise, Bruce said.
Plainville Police Chief James Alfred agreed with Bruce’s assessment.
He said his officers aren’t reporting anything “out of the norm” and suggested a retail shopping complex across from the casino tends to generate more police activity.
“So far so good is the best way to put it,” Alford said.
Bruce is expected to report back to the commission in the fall with a deeper analysis through the first full year of Plainridge Park’s operation.
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