Research shows that opening or expanding a casino may help people in the community live better lives — but will it also make them die earlier?

Dr. Jessica C. Jones of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, lead author of the study, said that the investigation comes in response to the well-documented link between socioeconomic status and pediatric metabolic disorders like childhood obesity. Her team theorized that, given this association, establishments such as casinos may benefit public health. “American Indian–owned casinos have resulted in increased economic resources for some tribes and provide an opportunity to test whether these resources are associated with overweight/obesity,” they wrote.

The study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at medical data from American Indian children ages 7 to 18 from 117 school districts located in Californian tribal lands between 2001 and 2012. Fifty-seven of these districts had either opened or expanded a casino, 24 had a preexisting casino that was not expanded, and 36 did run a casino in the study period. The researchers then compared factors like family income and body mass index (BMI) within the sample.

Jones and colleagues found that opening or expanding a casino was associated with decreased poverty rates as well as a lower risk of excessive weight gain among children. The venture may result in a number of new resources, all of which contribute to better socioeconomic conditions for the community, they said. “These resources could include increased income, either via employment or per capita payments, and health-promoting community resources, such as housing, recreation and community centers, and health clinics,” Jones explained.

But in the long run, a casino has its problems. In response to legislation that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to open casinos in some regions of Kansas, the Kansas Health Institute (KHI) released a so-called health impact assessment detailing the projected pros and cons of the proposal. They found that, although casinos may increase income and lower BMI, they also bring with them a range of other issues.

“However, there could also more adverse residual effects like workers who suffer from interrupted sleep schedules and insomnia because of the shifts required for work in the gaming business,” Dylan Scott reported for Governing in 2012. “Employees will also be exposed to secondhand smoke.”

In addition, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that gambling addiction surges in response to new or expanded casinos. According to KHI’s estimates, the rate of addiction in the surrounding area nearly doubles in response to such ventures. Crime and drug abuse may also be driven up.

Opening a casino, it seems, is a gamble for public health, too.

Source: Jones JC, Dow WH, Chichlowska K. Association Between Casino Opening or Expansion and Risk of Childhood Overweight and Obestiy. JAMA. 2014.