LEDYARD, Conn. – When the first of two massive casinos opened in a remote corner of Connecticut two decades ago, some officials and residents feared the gambling centers would lead to organized crime, prostitution, drunken driving and other crime.
But the crime rate since Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun opened has fallen in the nearby municipalities compared to the years before the casinos opened — mirroring a drop in crime nationwide. Crime did not decline in some towns near the casinos as much as it fell statewide, but local officials acknowledge the worst fears never materialized.
"I'd say those fears have not come to pass," said Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel.
The crimes studied include murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary and thefts. Mohegan Sun opened in 1996; Foxwoods in 1992.
Montville has averaged 13 crimes per 1,000 residents annually since the casino opened through 2009 — down 35 percent from the 19 crimes per 1,000 residents logged in the seven years before either casino was opened, 1985-1991.
Montville's post-casino decline is slightly less than the statewide average decline of 36 percent, compared to the seven years before the casinos arrived.
Ledyard experienced a 25 percent decline compared to the period before the casino.
Crime fell 19 percent in the nearby city of Norwich, 33 percent in Preston and 24 percent in North Stonington.
Then-Gov. Lowell Weicker warned in 1991 that Foxwoods would lead to organized crime, prostitution, drunken driving and other crime.
But records show prostitution arrests are rare in the casinos and host towns and there is little evidence of mob activity.
"We haven't experienced that type of criminal behavior," said Lt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for Connecticut State Police, which has policed the casinos since they opened. Organized crime, he said, "really has not crossed our radar."
As for Weicker's prostitution prediction, Mohegan Sun had no prostitution arrests inside the casino from 2003 to 2008, the last year for which statistics were available. Foxwoods had two arrests. Montville and Ledyard, the towns that host the casinos, had none.
Drunken driving arrests are down in Norwich, an average of 208 from 1985 until 1991, the year before Foxwoods opened. From 1992 through 2009, Norwich averaged 163 drunken-driving arrests.
Disorderly conduct arrests are also down in Norwich, from an annual average of 767 in the pre-casino years to 354 arrests annually since the casinos.
Drunken-driving statistics for the other four towns were not available before 2003.
The two casinos attract tens of thousands of visitors daily and rank among the biggest in North America with about 18,000 employees combined. Mohegan Sun posted $719 million in slot-machine revenue in the last fiscal year, compared with $650 million for Foxwoods.
Thefts did rise substantially after Foxwoods Resort Casino opened. Larcenies account for most of the crimes that occur in the both casinos.
Around Connecticut, embezzlements have more than tripled, a trend some blame on gambling debts. The state has averaged 158 embezzlements annually since the casinos opened, more than triple the average of 49 before casinos.
Crime has fallen dramatically nationwide, starting around 1992, but experts have yet to show why, said David Kennedy, who directs the Center on Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College in New York. He said the variables that can affect crime rates include "everything," including the economy, policing, guns, drug epidemics and the quality of education.
Studies have reached different conclusions on whether casinos cause more crime.
In a 2006 study, two economics professors looked at crime in every county in the country between 1977 and 1996 and compared crime rates in counties with and without casinos, taking into account factors ranging from population density to income. The professors, Earl Grinols at Baylor University in Texas and David Mustard at the University of Georgia, found a rise in all crimes except murder as a result of casinos and concluded that more than 8 percent of property crimes and more than 12 percent of violent crimes in counties with casinos were because of the presence of the casino.
"Specifically, problem and pathological gamblers commit crimes as they deplete their resources, nonresidents who visit casinos may both commit and be victims of crime, and casino-induced changes in the population start small but grow," they wrote.
Grinols said the paper was original academic research, and he was not paid to do it other than through his university position.
Steven Lanza, a University of Connecticut economist, concluded in a study in 2008 that the state had largely escaped the ill effects of casinos. Lanza found the crime rate fell less in the casino towns than the state average from 1990 to 2000, but concluded the casinos were not a significant factor.
Lanza said his study was the outgrowth of his research on the topic as editor of The Connecticut Economy, supported in part by the Mohegan Sun but mostly by the University of Connecticut and other partners. Mohegan Sun is no longer a financial contributor, he said.
Lanza said many factors affect crime rates, including population density, the age distribution of the population, the unemployment rate and the wealth of the community. He said after taking those factors into account, crime in Montville and Ledyard was actually lower in 2000 than might have been expected.
The improving economy in the 1990s probably provides much of the reason that crime dropped most everywhere in the state, Lanza said.
Connecticut may have escaped the adverse effects of the casinos because of their remote location and the fact that the state's casinos are destinations rather than gambling strips within a town or city, Lanza said.
"It's something of an obstacle to it spilling into the community," Lanza said. "The results were kind of surprising."