Anti-gambling activists demonstrate against casinos

Karen DeWitt
October 15, 2013

Anti gambling activists took a sledgehammer to a slot machine in front of the New York State Capitol, to demonstrate their opposition a ballot amendment to legalize gambling casinos in New York.

Wielding a sledgehammer- anti gambling advocates took turns smashing up a Lucky 7 slot machine, at a park with the State Capitol in the   background, as TV news cameras recorded the event.

David Blankenhorn, with the Institute for American Values, organized the event.

“It felt great,” Blankehorn said. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.”

Blankenhorn says his side of the fight doesn’t have any money to get their message across to voters. So he says for $340, he bought a slot machine on E-Bay, and organized the smashing party. He denies, though, that it’s merely a publicity stunt.

“This is an effort to try to get our argument out,” he said. “The research is very clear on the role of these machine’s and what these machines do.”

Blankenhorn says he’s reviving a decades old tradition of politicians smashing slot machines. He stood beside a photo of New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia smashing a slot machine in the 1930’s. LaGuardia warned New Yorkers that the slots preyed on them and took their money.

Today, New York’s top politicians support slot machines and other casino gambling. Governor Cuomo and the legislature are pressing for approval of a ballot measure to change the state’s constitution to allow up to seven new gambling casinos in the state. They say it will create thousands of jobs, increase state revenue and offset property taxes and provide funding for schools.

Blankenhorn and other opponents say the casinos also economically depress surroundings areas, create more problem gamblers, and become essentially a “regressive” tax on those in society least able to afford it.

“It’s a policy that takes from the have- nots and distributes it to the haves ,” said Blankenhorn. “There’s a good reason why our constitution prohibits this.”

The event attracted a few stares from state workers on their lunch hour, along with one heckler.

EJ McMahon, with the conservative think tank the Empire Center, also stopped by to watch.  McMahon, who is not for or against gambling, questions however the rosy predictions made by state officials about job creation, property tax reduction, and more money for education.

“I think it’s been grossly oversold,” said McMahon.

Governor Cuomo, who has so far not taken an actively public role in backing the gambling expansion, argues that gambling already exists in New York, and a no vote on the ballot amendment won’t change that.

“It’s not really gambling versus no gambling ,” Cuomo said recently. “ We already have gambling, we just don’t call it gambling.”

New York already has several casinos, run by Indian tribes. It also has exploited a loophole in the state’s current laws to offer what are termed video lottery terminals, which are essentially slot machines connected to the state’s legal lottery system.

And, even if the amendment fails at the ballot, Cuomo has already said he’ll authorize more of the slot like video lottery terminals at locations round the state.