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What Would Happen if a Casino Came to Town?

HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, HOST: Residents of the Times Square neighborhood have joined with local businesses to fight a plan for a new casino in the theater district. Aleta LaFargue, president of the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association, says the Casino is a threat to her community.

ALETA LA FARGUE: People forget that Times Square is only two blocks from our very densely residential areas. We live here, we work here, we're raising our families here. And we don't want your casino here.

MCFARLANE: But the developers of the casino plan argue that Times Square with its millions of tourists and neon lights is tailor made for gambling. And that it will bring a lot of money to the area. We were curious about the impact that other casinos have had on their cities so I called up an expert. Jeffrey Lolli is a Professor at Widener University. He used to work in the gambling industry. I asked him what happens when a casino moves to town.

JEFFREY LOLLI: Well, I think there's a broad impact and it's had both positive impact and negative impact positively. Obviously, it's a huge economic driver for any region or area because of the taxes that are generated from gaming. It provides tons of jobs. It also creates and increases tourism to that area. Obviously, it's another attraction for people to come and see.

MCFARLANE: Won’t people stay inside the casino? Will they go to other restaurants rather than staying inside the restaurant and buying food and drinks inside?

LOLLI: If you can get people to stay for longer periods of time, and not just be a frequent traveler just going for the day, then chances are that yes, they will visit other businesses, other restaurants outside because they want variety. They don't want the same old thing in and while the customers may have, you know, several restaurants, they want to see the region here. So if someone hasn't come to New York, or New York City, right, they want to see the whole city.

MCFARLANE: So what are the negative consequences?

LOLLI: A lot of people anecdotally will say that it increases crime. There's no data that shows it increases crime, any more than any other new business coming into an era right? There's more people so there's more potential, but there's no data that shows that it also creates more congestion, right and more traffic. So in an area that's already very congested, we're talking about Time Square specifically, it's going to create a lot more congestion, and a lot more traffic. And, of course, for New Yorkers that are local, they already don't like that. Right? And so it has to be done very strategically with a plan to think about those kinds of consequences in terms of how it would impact traffic flow, congestion, you know, additional, having additional public safety people for the you know.

MCFARLANE: So in looking at Times Square, specifically, some people are surprised there isn't a casino there already. Do you think it will really have a big impact on the area given it’s already a busy touristy place?

LOLLI: I think it will, because I think people are tired of the same old, same old and Time Square, it hasn't changed much, right. There's not a lot of new development there. And once you've kind of been there, you've been there, right? You've seen everything. And so I think it will bring a new market, a new group of people to have a reason to go to Manhattan, right?

MCFARLANE: So there are quite a lot of New Yorkers who are very skeptical about this. What would you say to them?

LOLLI: I think you have to keep an open mind. I would be skeptical. I understand if that was my home. But I think in keeping an open mind, you have to listen to what the plan is. It depends on so many things right, how it's executed, who does it, what criteria demands are placed upon the casino operator and really how it's rolled out. Look at the end of the day, no matter where you put this casino you're not going to make everybody happy. People are going to still be upset, right? But we can try to mitigate that or minimize that as much as possible on how we execute this.

MCFARLANE: Ok and one last question. So you're a gambling casino expert. Do you gamble yourself?

LOLLI: When I go once in a while I do. I wouldn't call myself a big gambler.

MCFARLANE: What’s your top bet?

LOLLI: Oh, you know, a couple 100 dollars. It's fun, it's gaming. That’s really what it’s about at the end of the day.

MCFARLANE: That’s Jeffrey Lolli, Professor at Widener University and gambling industry expert, thank you so much for speaking with me today.

LOLLI: My pleasure, thank you Henrietta.

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