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Caution: Casino jobs may come with a heavy price

DIANE ABBOTT

Sunday, March 16, 2014    

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THESE are perilous times as the world recovers from a global economic crisis. The moreso for a small island state like Jamaica. So it is no surprise that Jamaican politicians are poised to give the go-ahead to a mega Las Vegas-style entertainment complex. It represents a US$450-million investment.

When completed, the complex will consist of 2,000 rooms, a state-of-the-art entertainment complex, bars, restaurants, health club, retail space, and a full-service casino with table gaming and slot machines. Above all, it will create jobs — 1,000 in the construction phase, 4,000 full-time workers, and 16,000 ancillary.

The prospect of all those jobs must be almost irresistible to Jamaican politicians. However, they will have to be careful that Jamaicans are not just relegated to the 'ancillary roles', but can also get trained for the highly skilled roles like croupiers.

But if casinos bring jobs, they can also bring problems. British politicians and law enforcement agencies were notoriously wary of casino gambling. They knew of its associations with the Mafia in the United States. For years British casinos were small, tightly regulated, and admitted only members. More recently, gambling was deregulated and the Government proposed introducing Las Vegas-style mega casinos into urban centres like Manchester.

But there was such a public outcry that they had to shelve the idea. The British like visiting Las Vegas. They don't want it on their own soil.

Even in America, until the 1980s casinos were legal only in Nevada (Las Vegas) and Atlantic City. And Americans were only too well aware of the problems associated with casinos. These include drug abuse, mental illness, suicide, violent crime, car theft, larceny, and bankruptcy. The latter three all increased by 10 per cent in communities that allowed gambling.

But the major problem associated with casinos is organised crime. Everyone knows about the relationship between the Mafia and Las Vegas in Nevada. So, unsurprisingly, Nevada ranked first in crime rates among the 50 states in both 1995 and 1996 (based on an analysis of FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics).

Further, the violent crime rate in Nevada increased by close to 40 per cent from 1991 to 1996, a period in which the national violent crime rate dropped by approximately 10 per cent. In Atlantic City, the total number of crimes within a 30-mile radius increased by 107 per cent in the nine years following the introduction of casinos.

Yet despite the obvious problems, gambling interests put big pressure on US politicians, and casinos spread all over the United States. The associated criminality spread too. US News & World Report analysis found crime rates in casino communities to be 84 per cent higher than the national average.

Further, while crime rates nationally dropped by two per cent in 1994, the 31 localities that introduced casinos in 1993 saw an increase in crime of 7.7 per cent the following year.

Yet another problem associated with casino gambling is political corruption. American research revealed that the gambling industry was attracted to states with an existing "culture of corruption". It was noteworthy that corruption convictions increased both before and after casino gambling was legalised in other states.

There was a pattern of "regulatory capture" where regulations were almost invariably relaxed after the casinos opened their doors. Researchers also found that four out of five states with the highest annual rates of public corruption were casino states.

Nobody doubts that casinos bring jobs. But there could be a price to pay. No doubt Jamaican politicians believe that the political culture and Jamaica's law enforcement agencies are robust enough to deal with the wave of opportunities for crime and corruption that casino gambling will bring. We will see.

— Diane Abbott is the British Labour party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

www.dianeabbott.org.uk

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