Casinos + Drunk Driving = Not Good

Reporter Peter Schworm has an interesting story in the Globe today on how the Mohegan Sun casino has affected its host community of Montville, Connecticut. One bit near the end jumped out at me:

Traffic has gotten worse, particularly in the evening, and drunken-driving arrests have surged. In Norwich, which is within 8 miles of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, such arrests doubled after 1992, a 2009 study found.

Of course, an increase in drunk driving is a point often cited by casino opponents. Still, that paragraph sent me to Google, where I came across a 2010 study on the matter in the Journal of Health Economics. “Results indicate that there is a strong link between the presence of a casino in a county and the number of alcohol-related fatal traffic accidents,” reports the study, which was performed by economists form the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and the College of Charleston. Specifically, the study found that alcohol-related fatal accidents jumped by 9.2 percent in counties with casinos.

There was one twist, though: the number of drunk driving fatalities depended on where the casino was located. Casinos in rural or mid-sized communities were associated with significantly more alcohol-related deaths than casinos in urban areas. In fact, “Urban or greater-than-average populous counties may be expected to see a decrease in alcohol-related fatal traffic accidents when casinos are present,” the study said. The explanation was that while people have to drive long distances to casinos located away from population centers, urban casinos, by definition, have lots of people close by. Also, there tend to be public transportation options. Finally, the researchers surmised that the decrease in drunk driving deaths was likely the result of people spending their night gambling at a casino instead of, say, drinking at a bar or club (though, admittedly, considering casinos here will be allowed to serve free drinks, it’s hard to imagine how those activities will be too different).

There are without doubt other troubles associated with urban casinos, starting with easier access for more people who are likely to be problem gamers. But considering how cash-strapped Massachusetts police departments have struggled to enforce drunk driving laws lately, this will be yet another consideration that our yet-to-be-created gaming commission has to weigh as it debates whether to license a casino in Foxboro, East Boston, or somewhere else entirely.