Seemingly oblivious to what has been happening right next door in New Jersey, New York lawmakers have edged their state another step perilously close to acceptance of legalized casino gambling. The New York legislature approved a proposal that would let voters decide next year whether to legalize gambling hall such as those in Atlantic City that have stirred charges of corruption against state and federal officials in New Jersey, prompted law-enforcement officials to warn of gangland feuds and stepped-up organized crime activity in Atlantic City, and brought an upsurge in drug trafficking, loan sharking, and other types of lawlessness.
Under New York law, the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow gambling halls in the state must be passed by two consecutive legislatures before being put on the ballot for voter approval. The lawmakers' action now clears the way for final legislative passage as early as January, with the possibility that the question could be placed before voters later in 1981. New York has been under steady pressure from gambling interests to give betting halls legal entry, as have other states along the East Coast from Florida to Maine.
Even as New York's legislature was voting in support of casinos, a report in the New York Times disclosed that more than 50 Atlantic City officials with responsibility for regulating the resort's burgeoning casino industry -- via zoning, planning, law-enforcement, and other decisions -- have developed close financial ties to casino companies. Some government officials see the pattern of involvement and apparent conflicts of interests as being so pervasive as to threaten to undermine the city's independent watchdog role as regulator.
A supposedly strong ethics code enacted by Atlantic City last year bars elected officials from taking direct action or participating in decisions that affect companies in which they hold stock. Likewise the New Jersey legislature has acted to strengthen its oversight of casino operations. This came in the wake of the FBI's Abscam investigation in which a US senator, officials on the state's Casino Control Commission, a mayor, and other state and local officials reportedly were implicated in alleged bribery attempts and influence-peddling in connection with casinos.
New Yorkers and residents in other states tempted by gambling's "easy money" would do well to ponder Nevada's long history of coping not very successfully against organized crime and its corruptive influence, the all-too-familiar shadows that trail casino gambling. For most East Coast states, there is still time enough to keep out the insidious moral and social destruction that comes with casinos.