Study says casinos in rural counties lead to more drunk-driving deaths

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OXFORD — Anti-casino groups unveiled a fresh argument against the proposed Oxford County casino Thursday.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics, casinos in rural counties bring a 9.2 percent increase in drunken-driving fatalities. It’s the first study to examine the relationship between drunken-driving fatalities and casinos.

“It’s entirely appropriate for Oxford,” said Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNo!. He said the county’s highways could become more dangerous with a large facility serving alcohol.

Robert Lally, an investment partner in casino sponsor Black Bear Entertainment, accused CasinosNo! of using scare tactics as the election draws near.

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“We were kind of expecting the opposition to come at us with some of these scare tactics,” he said Thursday.

“They don’t want to talk about jobs and they don’t want to talk about school funding and an additional $50 million in tax revenue,” Lally said. “We expect to see more of their scare tactics in the next couple of days.”

The study was conducted by economics professors Chad D. Cotti and Douglas M. Walker of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the College of Charleston, respectively. It concluded that in urban areas, casinos can decrease drunken-driving fatalities.

In urban counties, Cotti and Walker conclude, casinos can decrease the distance people drive after drinking. Where the population is more sparse, they write, impaired drivers will travel more. The study accounts for increases in population and changes in alcohol laws in its conclusion.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three people died in Oxford County last year as a result of impaired driving, defined as driving over the legal blood alcohol content limit of 0.08 percent. The NHTSA data shows one drunken-driving death in 2008 and one in 2007.

“We’ve never seen that at Hollywood Slots,” Randy Seaver, spokesman for the pro-casino group Take Charge Maine, said Thursday. “You don’t see a whole lot of people using public transportation in Bangor.”

The study said the presence of casinos could also increase drunken-driving deaths in neighboring counties.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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