Growing Movement Against Casinos

Last week, on the steps of the Capitol building in Albany, New York, a group of public intellectuals and activist citizens took a sledgehammer to a casino slot machine to protest a referendum that would strip the New York Constitution of its ban on casino gambling in New York State.

Despite the ban, there are casinos at nine race tracks throughout the state and five Native American casinos.

But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to bring gambling to New York City. And he doesn’t want the Constitution to stand in the way. Cuomo says that even if he loses the referendum, he’ll still proceed with his plans.

But protests are growing louder from many quarters, including from the Institute for American Values in New York City.

David Blankenhorn is a founder of the Institute and last week he released a remarkable report titled — Why Sponsoring Casinos is a Regressive Policy Unworthy of a Great State.

On the cover? A picture of former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia swinging a sledgehammer against a casino slot machine. LaGuardia saw casino gambling as stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

“I have no problem with gambling. If you want to play poker, or place a bet on who is going to win the Super Bowl, or have an office pool — but what happens in casinos is not gambling,” Blankenhorn told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “All that happens in casinos is that people lose their money. The machines have been rigged. The games are all rigged. You just go in and lose your money. The reason they exist at all is not because there is a big demand for them, but because the state wants them there. They give monopolistic privileges to these corporations.”

“People can gamble all they want. I would prefer games of gambling with maybe some skill involved where people have a chance to win. There is no winning in casinos — they are just fleecing operations.”

How is it that the Constitution bans casinos but they still exist in New York?

“With the Indian casinos, the courts have ruled that these are separate nations,” Blankenhorn explained. “As far as the race track casinos go, they have created a fiction that these casinos are not casinos. Even though when you go there, you see the casinos. There are slot machines. You put your money in the slots. And it’s a casino. But they got some kind of ruling that said they are connected to the lottery. And since the lottery is legal in New York, then the casinos are legal because they are extensions of the lottery. And that’s patently absurd.”

“The casinos are fleecing operations, they cheat people,” Blankenhorn said. “They don’t have any other purpose in life other than to take people’s money — usually from people who can least afford it. They take advantage of mostly retirees, lower wage workers — the very people who can least afford to be contributing disproportionately to the tax load, the people who are attracted into these casinos and lose their money. Not to mention the fact that between 35 percent and 55 percent of all casino money comes from problem gamblers — people who are seriously hurting themselves and others around them through excessive gambling. That’s nearly half of the revenue base. These are vulnerable people. The public health role of the state is to protect vulnerable people, not to just rip them off.”

Blankenhorn dedicated his report to the memory of Fiorello LaGuardia.

“Many historians say he was the greatest mayor ever in American history,” Blankenhorn said. “And I’ll tell you, if you read about this guy, he was one impressive guy. As a human being and as a political leader, he was most impressive. He served as mayor from 1934 to 1945 — three terms.”

“He hated slot machines. At that time, slot machines were the most popular form of gambling throughout the neighborhoods of New York. At that time, they were illegal. Political leaders in New York have traditionally openly supported gambling even during periods when the gambling was illegal.

This has been more common than not. That’s because the state gets money from casinos. It’s no different from what Governor Cuomo is doing now. It is flatly illegal right now to have casinos in New York. But we have them anyway. Why? The politicians want the state to get the money.”

Blankenhorn quotes the former Governor of New York — Mario Cuomo — against the current Governor — Andrew Cuomo.

“Mario Cuomo didn’t like gambling,” Blankenhorn said. “And he didn’t like the state’s involvement in gambling. And even when he reluctantly went along with the state’s involvement in gambling, he said plainly that he did not like it and wished he weren’t doing it. One time he said — we just do this for the money. I don’t know anyone who is excited by it.”

“He was flatly opposed to casinos. He said casinos don’t create wealth, they only redistribute it. He said there was a lot of economic evidence that they don’t help the economy. Which by the way there is. All of this complete phony talk about boosting the economy and creating jobs, that’s just made up talk. There isn’t the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that is true. And Mario Cuomo quotes this evidence in his book called The New York Idea.”

“Mario Cuomo grew up in a working class community in Queens, New York. I’m not saying he’s a perfect guy. He’s just a fallible guy like we all are. His parents were shopkeepers. And he grew up seeing the bookmakers. He said the bookmakers were the best dressed guys in the neighborhood. And he hated them. And he saw the damage they did. And he didn’t like it. And he didn’t like it because it ripped off ordinary people and sucked vulnerable people into a world where they were causing harm to their communities and their families and communities. And it benefited people who weren’t producing anything of value. They were just taking advantage of others. He hated it and he said so plainly, over and over again.”

When people hear family values, thrift, marriage, no casinos — they rightfully think conservative. But Blankenhorn is a liberal.

He’s hoping for a resurgence in family values and thrift from the liberal side.

“The hope for that resurgence is why I and my colleagues founded this organization twenty some years ago,” he says. “The reason for the stereotyping is because of the culture wars. Our culture is deeply polarized. Everything gets run through this paradigm of polarization. You have to be either red or blue, left or right, liberal or conservative. You are supposed to pick your team and fight for the agenda of your team. You’re supposed to hate, hate, hate the other team. All of that is deeply wrong. I have tried my best to oppose that. I have tried every way I can to not only avoid that way of thinking about it, but attacking it as deeply destructive.”

Are there any politicians on the scene currently who might reflect that point of view?

“I’m so upset with politics as currently practiced that I’ve kind of tuned out a little bit,” Blankenhorn says. “Nobody comes to mind. I like people who are no longer in public life. I got to know the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan embodied this trend I’m talking about. I know LaGuardia did. He was a perfect embodiment of that kind of view. But that was a different era.”

(For the complete Interview with David Blankenhorn, 27 Corporate Crime Reporter 40(12), October 21, 2013, print edition only.)

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