The potential for increased crime and social problems has been cited as a major downside of allowing casinos in the Cayman Islands.
Most experts acknowledge that casinos do bring baggage with them in terms of increased problems with addiction.
There are also cost implications for law enforcement in terms of oversight and policing connected to casinos, though a direct link to serious increases in crime has not been substantiated by studies.
University of the West Indies professor Ian Boxill, who produced a report on the potential impact of casino gambling in Jamaica, said: “The research in the US shows that certain types of crime may increase with the presence of casinos.
“However, other crimes may be reduced given the increased security with the coming of casinos, since there is tendency to increase law enforcement capacity in the casinos areas. It all depends on how the casinos are managed.”
He accepted that there were also concerns over addiction and divorce rates.
“A lot depends on what mechanisms are in place to address these issues and mandate owners and regulators to anticipate and deal with social problems associated with problem gambling that may result from increased gambling among the local population.”
A feasibility study in Bermuda on the possibility of legalising casino gambling estimated that total costs of dealing with crime, counselling addicts and setting up a Gaming Commission Board to regulate the industry could run as high as $7 million.
Though the report ultimately concluded these costs would be more than mitigated by revenues, the finding lends weight to the argument that there would be a social price to pay.
The report points out: “Based on the estimated incidence of problem gambling, the additional staff required will include certified gambling counsellors, a psychologist experienced with addressing pathological gamblers, additional addiction counsellors and a social worker.”
The report also suggests a gambling helpline would have to be set up, new auditors and regulators hired and an additional $1 million annually spent on policing.
No similar report has been done for the Cayman Islands and some, like Ellio Solomon, believe that sort of research would have to take place before the debate goes any further.
Mr. Solomon, a United Democratic Party legislator for George Town, said Cayman’s lawmakers needed to look carefully at the numbers.
“We need to get past feel good statements about revenues and get to some real maths. Everyone you speak to will say you can raise revenue, but ask them how much and what the expenses are and they can’t tell you.”
He said there were hidden costs, including the potential for increased reliance on state handouts from families affected by addiction.
Mr. Boxill said some of those concerns could be mitigated by having casinos for visitors only, as happens in the Bahamas.
But he said no government should proceed without doing due diligence on what would be required.
“The critical issue is for government to approach casinos cautiously and with the research, so that the structures are put in place to address possible problems that may occur.
“Often this is not done in the Caribbean and governments do things for short term gain, but they in turn create long term problems.
“If approached sensibly, creatively and with correct information and expertise, casinos may be beneficial to the country that chooses to have them. The critical thing is for policy makers to understand what they are getting into and take the necessary steps to address all sides of the issue.”
The issue of direct casino-related crime is less clear cut.
The American Gaming Association cites several studies that have been conducted in the US as evidence that there is no link between casinos and crime.
“While anecdotal evidence and popular myth have perpetuated claims by gambling opponents that the introduction of casinos causes a rise in street crime, recent studies, both publicly and privately funded, as well as testimony from law enforcement agents working in casino jurisdictions, refute this claim,” it says on its website.
Grant Stitt, a university of Nevada professor who co-authored a study on casinos and crime, said communities that had recently introduced casinos had seen negligible impact.
He said: “One of the things that people need to remember is that casinos are businesses and they are concerned about their image. They do everything they can to operate safely. They have really good security in their parking lots, the areas surrounding the casino and of course within the building. Anyone who commits a crime inside a casino is an idiot, because big brother is always watching; there are cameras in the sky.”