*iStock photo
*iStock photo

Some of the studies paint a grim picture: casino gambling leading to an increase in suicides and bankruptcy. Other studies refute such connections. 

But the question still looms: Can Bermuda handle the social costs associated with casinos?

One social services leader on the island says her industry is already stretched thin and that casinos would make problems worse. 

The OBA says it will look to nations like Singapore for best practices and use some casino revenues to deal with gambling problems. We asked community leaders a simple question: is Bermuda ready? 

ermuda is currently unprepared to deal with social problems brought on by casino gaming, according to one social services leader.

Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre, says social service agencies are “definitely not prepared to handle it. The demand is more than most agencies can deal with currently.

“We haven’t done a good job with what we’re dealing with right now: neglect, abuse, substance abuse, gang violence, alcoholism.”

The Family Centre is not necessarily against gaming, says Dismont, but she adds: “Anyone that provides gambling has a responsibility to develop policies and programmes.

“If we allow casino gaming for locals, we are taking a gamble with an increase in social problems,” says Dismont. 

“We don’t have a good enough track record to deal with social issues. There are not good enough processes and responses and structures in place.”

A green paper from a previous administration in 2009 estimated that mitigation programmes to deal with the social costs of a casino would be $2.4 million annually. 

Shawn Crockwell, Bermuda’s Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, maintains that this current government is committed to dedicating funds generated from casinos for programmes that counsel and treat problem and pathological gamblers.

“We believe that we can learn from other jurisdictions that are doing well in preventing the increase in social problems associated with gaming and are committed to being proactive rather than
reactive with this issue,” said Crockwell through a statement released yesterday.

The Ministerial Gaming Committee, according to Crockwell, is researching best practices from jurisdictions that have casinos such as Singapore. 

Bermuda will consider adopting practices like imposing an entrance fee that would deter casual gamblers and restrict the admission of local residents, implementing rules that exclude those in financial distress or those who are receiving government assistance. 

In Singapore, for instance, locals can opt to bar themselves or close family members from the casinos, according to Crockwell.

Dismont, however, is not alone in her concern. Sandra Butterfield, the executive director of Focus Counselling Service, says a casino would open up “the floodgates for another vice to be treated”.

‘Bad track record’

She says more counselors in her organization are being trained to deal with addiction. But would the social costs of a casino overburden the island’s current social safety net?

“Let’s just make it simple and say ‘yes it will’. Will you need more money from government to treat these vices? Yes,” she says.

Dismont, meanwhile, says Bermuda “does not have a good track record around addictions”.

She added: “If locals could gamble at a casino, how many more people would be addicted?

“It’s a concern, particularly in a recession where individuals are looking for a fast way to address financial situations they’re in.

“When you bring in these solutions, people are more likely to think this is the white knight to save them.”

Someone who suffers from one addiction, is more likely to develop another, says Dismont, meaning that alcoholism, drug abuse and gambling sometimes become intertwined. 

She was also concerned about the effect a casino would have on the island’s suicide and bankruptcy rates.

Lloyd Duncan, the administrative bishop of the New Testament Church of God  and the pastor of Heritage Worship Centre, thinks a casino would bring social challenges. 

“That’s the $50 million question — would we be prepared for that? We would be venturing into uncharted waters. 

“It would be something new that we’d have to tackle. Are we really prepared? That’s a good question.”

He added: “If there is typically an exacerbation of crime, whether it be through stealing, through prostitution, the question is what would make Bermuda any different?”

Some studies draw a direct connection between casino gaming and a community’s suicide and bankruptcy rates, whereas others suggest any connection is tenuous at best.

Dismont said: “Right now, there’s not a lot of reported suicide in Bermuda, but once someone digs a deep (financial) hole, some see no way out,” says Dismont.

She adds, “We have social issues. There is multi-generational trauma. We have issues of neglect, abuse that have never been addressed because we’re Bermudian, because we hide these things. 

“The point is we need to do more prevention and put systems in place to make sure families know where to go to get help. We don’t need more social problems while we’re trying to do that.”

Crockwell, through his statement released yesterday, points out the OBA is proceeding with an “integrated casino resort model” that will include high end hotel rooms, restaurants, shopping, golf and convention space. 

Social ills and casinos?

In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides increased by 213 per cent, from 24 to 75, during the two years following the introduction of casinos, according to a Maryland attorney general report from the mid-1990s.

• In neighbouring Biloxi, Mississippi suicide attempts jumped by 1,000 percent, from 6 to 66, in the first year alone, according to the same report.

• Las Vegas displays the highest levels of suicide in the US nation, both for residents of Las Vegas and for visitors to that setting, according to a University of California-San Diego study.

• In Atlantic City, New Jersey, that same study found that “abnormally high suicide levels for visitors and residents appeared only after gambling casinos were opened.”

• However, an American Gaming Association study, undertaken by University of California-Irvine, refutes those findings. 

• That study found no evidence to support the idea that residents or visitors of gaming areas face higher than average risks of suicide.

• A study done by researchers from three American universities found that 8 per cent of crime in counties with casinos could be attributed to such gaming facilities. 

The study analyzed crime in every county in the U.S. over a 19 year period and was published in 2000.

• The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that Mississippi riverboat gambling increases bankruptcies in both Mississippi and in counties in nearby states.

The Department of the Treasury, however, conducted a study in 1999 and found “no connection between state bankruptcy rates and either the extent of or introduction of gambling.”