By Jon Campbell
ALBANY Opponents of a ballot proposition that would allow private casinos in New York destroyed a slot machine outside of the state Capitol on Tuesday, repeatedly smacking it with a sledge hammer to protest the proposal.
One by one, members of the Institute for American Values, a think tank, and the Coalition Against Gambling in New York took their whacks, smashing the glass cover of an operational "Lucky 7s" machine as the ornate Capitol building stood as a backdrop.
The event was inspired by iconic 1934 footage of then-New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia smashing a slot machine. La Guardia was a critic of slots and gambling.
"Cheating people in order to get money for the government, particularly when the people getting cheated are vulnerable people -- lower-wage workers, retirees, people who can least afford it -- Mayor La Guardia knew that it was a bad way to raise money for the government," said David Blankenhorn, president of the think tank.
New York voters will be asked on Nov. 5 to approve a change to the state Constitution that would allow for up to seven private, non-Indian casinos across the state. The first four would be located in the Capital Region, the Catskills and the Southern Tier, while additional video-lottery terminals would be approved if voters reject the constitutional change.
Proponents of the amendment say it will generate millions for the state which would be earmarked for education aid and additional money for local governments.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget office estimates it would generate $430 million in annual revenue, though that number includes money from Long Island video terminals and from existing pacts with Native American tribes.
New York Jobs Now, a coalition of business interests, labor groups and elected officials pushing the casino amendment, is holding events out the state touting what the revenue would do for local governments. On Tuesday, the group was on Long Island.
The ballot proposal "is going to create good paying jobs all across the state, boost local economies and expand opportunity for businesses," Long Island Association President and CEO Kevin Law said in a statement.
Opponents of the ballot measure say casinos prey on those with low incomes and aren't an effective economic-development tool. Blankenhorn's group has authored a report that contends casinos are a "regressive source of revenue for the states," with some propping up failing facilities.
The slot-machine event, held among a park lined with food trucks that draws a lunch crowd each day from nearby workers, drew interest from a number of onlookers, including state worker Michael Hanley, who heckled the speakers.
"Slot machines suck the money straight from poor people the same way guns kill people and forks make people fat," he yelled repeatedly.