ALBANY – With no money to spend on a major campaign, casino opponents used a sledgehammer Tuesday to break apart a slot machine they had set up in a park outside the state Capitol.
The opponents to this fall’s Proposition One – which would permit up to seven new, Las Vegas-style casinos in the state – say they are left to such public relations efforts as they battle the far deeper pockets of casino, business and labor interests pushing for casino expansion.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, after taking his turn blasting away at the gambling device that organizers had placed on the west park of the Capitol. The machine stubbornly held together for much of the pounding, though shards of glass could be seen flying in different directions with a few of the swipes. Another round of hits while Blankenhorn was talking to reporters reduced the device to a shell.
Blankenhorn, whose group promotes what they call family values issues such as thrift, said the event recalled the days when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia busted slot machines to highlight gambling problems in the 1930s.
“It’s an attempt to do what Mayor LaGuardia did when he was mayor, which is to bring public attention to the actual facts of the matter. I think if we didn’t have an argument to make you could call it a stunt. But we have an argument to make,” he told reporters.
Blankenhorn was joined by representatives of the anti-casino groups Stop Predatory Gambling and Coalition Against Gambling in New York, which was formed in Buffalo a decade ago. Critics call the expansion a regressive form of taxation, especially on low-income people and individuals with gambling addictions, that will not yield the economic benefits being touted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor says the expansion will create jobs and drive hundreds of millions in additional funding for public schools and local governments each year.
So far, there has been no major spending on any statewide media advertising campaign by casino companies, though one gambling industry executive told The Buffalo News a couple weeks ago that advocates have been asked to raise up to $5 million for a vote-yes effort.
Blankenhorn said he expects no such fundraising by casino opponents. “I don’t know of anybody who has any money to spend of that nature,” he said.
The slot machine bashing – courtesy of a device critics bought on eBay – came as both sides await a decision by a state judge on a lawsuit seeking to at least change what critics call overly rosy language on the statewide ballot for Proposition One.
A ruling is expected within days that, critics hope, could even lead to the ballot question being tossed entirely, though few expect the courts to go that far with the court challenge.
The governor’s office has been promoting a provision of the casino plan that would collect $500 per slot machine from each casino facility, which would go as additional funding for treating people addicted to gambling.
A pro-casino group, whose members include business and labor interests, dismissed the criticism by the anti-gambling groups and came up with its own LaGuardia story.
“Actually, it was Mayor LaGuardia who declared that ‘if bingo is unlawful in one place, the same game cannot be lawful in another place,’ ” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for NY Jobs Now, the pro-casino group.
“New Yorkers spend $1.2 billion at casinos in neighboring states, which is why Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, have united to get that money back for jobs, schools and property tax relief in New York.”