The allegations of bribery and influence-peddling that have linked a number of state and local officials in New Jersey to Atlantic City's gambling casinos are surprising only in that they have surfaced so soon. Anyone with only a casual knowledge of the history of casino gambling in the US knows that officials corruption and organized crime traditionally have gone hand in palm-upturned hand with gambling halls.
Gambling ventures such as Atlantic City's which deal primarily in cash and in large amounts of it are favorite spots for crime syndicates to "launder" their ill-gotten gains from narcotics, loan sharking, and other illegal pursuits. Even the strictest of state casino controls have yet to succeed in completely routing the influence of mobsters from either Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the only two US cities with legalized casinos.
thus, only two years after Gov. Brendan Byrne boasted that New Jersey's would be the "Toughest" casino controls in the world, the FBI's "Abscam" probe reportedly has implicated a US senator, the chairman and vice-chairman of the state's Casino Control Commission, a mayor, and a still undetermined number of other public officials. Even the Governor himself has had his strong law-and-order reputation questioned because of his association with a Las Vegas casino representative accused by Nevada officials of having business dealings with underworld kingpins. In all fairness, however, it should be kept in mind that such insinuations and allegations are just that -- allegations, which have yet to be tested in the courts.
The full story of Atlantic City's casino-connected bribery scandal will not likely be known until indictments are handed up by federal grand juries in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, New Jersey will try to revamp its Casino Control commission and place stricter conflict-of-interest laws into effect. But it is unlikely that officials can erase the smear of corruption that casinos have left on the state's image. Nor will they be able to remove completely the public suspicions of wrongdoing that will inevitably continue to cast shadows across the bright and beguiling lights of Atlantic City's casinos. Other states along the East Coast tempted to follow New Jersey's footsteps in legalizing casino gambling would do well to ponder those shadows as well.