Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
When Fiorello La Guardia became mayor of NYC in 1934, organized crime and gambling racketeers were his particular bugbears and he went on campaigns to wipe them out. During Prohibition in the 1920s, organized crime had spread from liquor to gambling, narcotics, and the “service of outlawed desires.” One of La Guardia’s earliest public acts as mayor, shown on the following video, was to swing his hammer to smash slot machines and ceremoniously dump them in the Long Island Sound on October 13, 1934.
In the 79 years since Fiorello smashed and dumped those slot machines, a sea change in government’s relationship with gambling has occurred as racetracks, like Aqueduct and Yonkers, have become “racinos” filled with the slot machines La Guardia loathed because he believed they took money from families that should go to feed their children. New York State voters will also be voting on November 5 on whether to approve a constitutional amendment, backed by an alliance of gambling interests, Indian tribes, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, to allow casinos to open in the Catskills, the Southern Tier and the Albany area. The New York Times reported yesterday that the gambling industry has spent “more than $59 million on lobbying and political contributions in New York” since 2005. We know that they are betting a big return on their investment. I am sure if La Guardia were here today he would be shouting to the rooftops against it. What do you think?