By: Hanna Shoshany
This past election day, New Yorkers approved the Casino Ballot Referendum. Being the first state to legalize commercial gambling since 1994, New York is the nineteenth state to say “yes” to full service commercial casinos. With plans of opening up seven casinos in the course of seven years, four of which will begin bidding in the upstate areas as early as January 1st, the economic projections are promising. The goal is to keep hundreds of millions of dollars currently spent in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut right here in our backyard. The generated revenues will be allocated to public schools and to lower property taxes. The government is also hopeful that this new law will minimize civilian involvement in illegal underground gambling rings. The government, however, ignores the fact that all of the eighteen states that host commercial casinos also have the highest rates of underground gambling rings. As a society, we are more likely to get involved in illegal gambling when we live in an atmosphere that supports gambling as a whole.
Most of the underground gambling rings in New York are owned and operated by crime families. These gambling rings offer high stakes poker games and sports betting whose proceeds are wired to Costa Rica. Additionally, these gambling rings create an atmosphere of drugs and prostitution that is not present in Vegas-style casinos. The government’s crackdown on these underground operations has led to high profile cases, usually involving over twenty defendants per “ring bust.” These cases generate lucrative business for attorneys in the tri-state area who specialize in defeating RICO charges. For instance, this past April, the FBI busted an illegal gambling ring that involved 33 co-conspirators and was orchestrated by Russian Underworld Bosses Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and Helly Nahmad, owner of the most lucrative art gallery in the city. Prior to accepting a plea bargain, these defendants faced 92 years on racketeering, money laundering, gambling, and fraud charges. These types of operations are miniscule in comparison to the Genovese Family’s involvement in New Jersey gambling rings, despite the accessibility of casinos in Atlantic City. The Russian gambling ring also feigns in comparison to the online betting schemes such as Pinnacle Sports, in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world.
Therefore, although the economic incentives of being the nineteenth state to legalize commercial gambling are highly attractive, the likelihood that it will minimize, as opposed to facilitate, the prevalence of underground illegal gambling rings, is farfetched.