6:55am

Wed October 16, 2013
Politics and Government

Anti-gambling advocates destroy slot machine during protest at State Capitol

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

Wielding a sledgehammer, anti-gambling advocates took turns smashing up a Lucky 7 slot machine, at a park with the New York 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 eBay, and organized the smashing party. He denies 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 machines 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 1930s. 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. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state 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, 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.

E.J. McMahon, with the conservative think tank The Empire Center, also stopped by to watch.  McMahon, who is not for or against gambling, questions what critics have called "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.

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 Native American 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 around the state.

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