Casinos alone don't cause crime, Hamilton officer says

A deputy chief with the Hamilton Police Service says he's found no evidence so far that a casino directly leads to increased crime.

Deputy chief studying crime rates in areas with casinos

Deputy chief Ken Leenderste, shown at a recent public meeting, says he's found no evidence that casinos cause crime. But entertainment districts do because they bring more foot traffic. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A deputy chief with the Hamilton Police Service says he's found no evidence so far that a casino directly leads to increased crime.

Ken Leenderste began researching the issue last year. He's found from other cities that entertainment districts bring more people, which by nature means more crime. But it's not the casino itself.

"From a policing point of view, we don't have a position as far as whether we want a casino or not," Leenderste told CBC Hamilton. "What we are saying is there will be an impact, but it's a reasonable impact."

Casino public forums:

Jan. 16: Waterdown District High School

215 Parkside Drive, Flamborough

Cogeco 23 will televise

Jan. 17: Hamilton city hall

71 Main St. W.

Cable 14 will televise

Both meetings are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Leenderste is researching the impact of casinos on crime and police staffing levels. Some areas hire more officers when a casino opens. Niagara Falls has a 30-officer casino unit that patrols a four-kilometre radius around the city's two casinos.

Hamilton added no additional officers for Flamboro Downs, he said.

Entertainment districts bring their share of disturbances, Leenderste said. But more foot traffic can also decrease some types of crime.

"It's a balancing act."

A potential casino has been a hot topic in Hamilton since last year, when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced a province-wide "modernization." The OLG will discontinue operating 801 slots at Flamboro Downs. It is also encouraging city council to vote on whether it wants gaming elsewhere in Hamilton.

Findings from Niagara Falls

Staff Sergeant Pat McCauley with the Niagara Regional Police heads up the Niagara Falls casino unit. He concurs with Leenderste's assessment that casinos themselves likely don't cause crime. But the entertainment district does.

The restaurants, bars and tourist establishments bring thieves, purse snatchers and swindlers, McCauley said. There's also a lot of drunkenness and disturbance.

But "it's not as simple as saying 'the casino's impact is X amount of calls and X amount of crimes,'" he said. "Is it because the casino is there or because of all the people there?"

When you consider the economic benefits of entertainment districts, "it's complex," he said.

As for organized crime, "I can't really comment on that," McCauley said. "But it certainly is a factor because of the nature of a casino."

Leenderste will be a panelist at a pair of public forums about the casino next week.

Upcoming public forums

The first is at Waterdown District High School on Jan. 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The second is at Hamilton city hall on Jan. 17 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The panel will also include:

  • Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health
  • Robert Murray from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health
  • Paul Burns from the Canadian Gaming Association
  • Bruce Barbour, executive director of Flamboro Downs Horse Racing Operations
  • Hannah Holmes, professor in McMaster University's department of economics

The meetings will be livestreamed online, and shown live on Cable 14 (the city hall one) and Cogeco 23 (Flamborough). Residents can register online and submit questions for the panelists.

The forums are meant to educate people and give them a chance to ask questions, said Norm Schleehahn, Hamilton's manager of business development.

"There's a lot of uncertainty with a lot of people, whether pro or against, and they just want to get things clarified," Schleehahn said. "We have a great panel of experts who can answer those questions."