FARMINGTON — Northern Edge to the south.

Flowing Water to the west.

SunRay to the east.

Sky Ute to the north.

San Juan County residents are surrounded by casinos.

A recent embezzlement case that, police said, was linked to the woman's gambling addiction raised questions about what effects the nearby casinos have on the community.

Melissa Mead, 34, was arrested Wednesday for suspicion of embezzling $24,000 from the Bloomfield Motor Vehicle Department. Police said Mead stole cash from the department to feed her gambling addiction.

Farmington has never studied how crime and poverty rates changed after casinos opened, said Dan Darnell, a Farmington city councilor and the executive director of San Juan Safe Communities Initiative.

Darnell said he will soon approach Safe Communities and the city about a possible study to see how gambling establishments have affected the area.

"Those are the types of trends we need to know," Darnell said. "We need to look at criminal activity before and after (a casino) opened."

Some business experts say there is a link between casino access and embezzling.

"Some of it may be that there's more opportunity to gamble. A lot of the embezzlement I've seen, they've been linked to gambling problems," said Scott Samuelson, a partner at Chandler & Co. LLP, a Farmington accounting firm.

Casinos have not always been a part of San Juan County culture. SunRay Park and Casino opened in 1999 and was the first casino in the Farmington area. Northern Edge Navajo Casino opened in Upper Fruitland in January 2012 and Flowing Water Navajo Casino east of Shiprock opened in 2010. Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, Colo. opened in November 2008.

There are also other casinos in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico that local patrons could frequent.

"It's one of those things where 10 years ago we didn't have any and now we have four that surround us," San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said. "It's a big business."

SunRay Park and Northern Edge declined to comment for this article. They declined to provide information about their revenue.

Carpenter said since Northern Edge opened the county collected about $1 million less in taxes from SunRay in a year, which suggests the money is now being spent at Navajo casino, he said.

"That in itself is another telling story about the amount of gambling that goes on in a casino," he said. "The more options there are the more people that are going to want to try their hand at gambling."

Alisha Hawthorne, a counselor who works with gambling addicts in Farmington, said adding casinos to an area can increase the number of problem gamblers.

There was a spike in people seeking treatment for a gambling addiction in Farmington after Northern Edge opened, she said.

Problem gamblers and regular casino patrons have different mindsets when they enter a casino, she said.

"Problem gamblers spend money that was for bills and groceries," she said. "They go in with the intent of winning. And when they lose, they go back with the intent to win their money back."

If people do use casinos, they should enter with the amount of money they are willing to lose and leave when it's gone, she said.

Hawthorne said a gambling addiction can be just as crippling a drug addiction.

But there are not nearly the amount of local resources available to gambling addicts compared to people with drug addictions.

There is not a gambler's anonymous or any other support group for problem gamblers offered anywhere in the county. And most of the counseling service centers in Farmington said they didn't treat gambling addiction when reached by phone Friday.

"We need to find people who are fighting this and find a place where they can come in an be a support group," Hawthorne said.

REFER: Local officials say gambling addiction has led to some local cases of embezzlement. For more on a rash of embezzlements and tips on how businesses can protect themselves from employee theft, see Monday's edition of The Daily Times and online at daily-times.com.