- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

West Virginia and Delaware have had no significant increase in crime since enacting slots legislation in the mid-1990s.

The states’ crime statistics likely will loom large in debates over setting up slot machines in the District and Maryland, where gambling critics have argued that slots breed crime.

Delaware’s statistics show decreases in the number of sex offenses, robberies, burglaries and alcohol violations since video-lottery terminals were added to the state’s three horse-racing tracks in 1994.

West Virginia, which enacted slots legislation in 1997, has no annual crime survey, but the two police departments covering Charles Town Races & Slots, the state’s only horse track, report similar declines in major crimes.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report supports the statistics for both states. However, the agency has no statistics for the specific areas around the race tracks.

W. Minor Carter, a lobbyist for the group www.stopslotsmd.com, called the statistics “misleading” and said the organization stands by its credo of “wherever slots are legalized, they bring … dramatic increases in street crime.”

Mr. Carter said many of the crimes go unreported because they are committed by out-of-town gamblers in their own neighborhoods.

“This has been proven by Las Vegas,” Mr. Carter said. “They have managed to import the gamblers and export the problems.”

John Melton, a lawyer with West Virginia’s lottery commission, acknowledges some increase in vehicle violations, but he attributed it to the increased number of track customers who come to play the slots machine.

However, Mr. Melton said municipalities around Charles Town Races & Slots, which borders Maryland, have reported either decreases or no increases in major crimes.

He said according to the most recent statistics, Charles Town had no reported arsons or sexual assaults in 2003-04 and calls for burglaries and narcotics significantly decreased. There were seven reported burglaries during that period, 12 fewer than the year before. And the number of narcotics calls had decreased by 15 from 2002-03 to 2003-04.

William Roper, police chief in Ranson, W.Va., said there has been no significant increases in crime, despite the population increasing six-fold in the past two years. The police department is one of two that responds to incidents at and around the Charles Town track.

“I was kind of skeptical when slots first got here, but I have seen no increase in crime,” he said.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he is concerned that the state’s struggling horse-racing industry will face increased competition from venues in nearby Delaware and West Virginia, which feature slot machines that provide track owners with more money to award larger purses. The out-of-state venues draw $309 million a year in revenue from Maryland gamblers.

For two years, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, has led the defeat of Mr. Ehrlich’s effort to put slot machines at four horse tracks and two off-track sites along Interstate 95, which would help increase racing purses.

In the District yesterday, investors failed to put on the Nov. 2 ballot an initiative that would have placed 3,500 video-lottery terminals in a new entertainment complex on New York Avenue in Northeast. Supporters of the plan vowed to appeal the ruling.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, signed a bill in July to put 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations around the state, making it the third state with horse racing that borders Maryland to have slots.

John F. Wayne, executive director for both the thoroughbred and harness racing commission in Delaware, hopes his neighbors never figure out the advantages of slots.

“I think that myth is circulated by a lot of people who don’t want to see slots in their neighborhoods,” he said. “The fact is it has a positive effect on the racing economy and the surrounding economy.”

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