Legalizing society’s vices is best way to hurt Outfit
RICH MILLER firstname.lastname@example.org February 10, 2012 12:44AM
Updated: March 11, 2012 8:46AM
Outfit crime boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno was sentenced to 25 years in prison this week. Sarno ordered the bombing of a business that was encroaching on his illegal video poker racket.
I’m glad that Sarno’s going to prison. I’m also happy that Illinois finally wised up and legalized video poker machines for taverns, fraternal clubs and truck stops.
A legal, regulated video poker industry means wise guys like Sarno will be put out of business. Illinois’ ridiculous “For Amusement Only” tax stickers on poker machines will finally come to an end once the legal, regulated machines are put into place. Nobody plays video poker at a tavern purely for their own amusement. They play because they’re hoping to win an illegal jackpot.
I have no fundamental problem with people who want to plunk quarters into a poker machine while they sip a beer and watch a game at their corner tap. They’re not criminals.
The problem, you see, isn’t video poker.
The problem is that the Outfit has been able to rake in untold millions of dollars while Illinois turned a mostly blind eye. Yeah, a few guys with bent noses and a handful of tavern owners were busted once in a while, but nothing ever stopped.
Legalization is the only proven way to cut the gangsters out. Illinois quickly killed off the illegal numbers rackets when the state started its own lottery, for instance.
On Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn will hold a press conference to “encourage people to support education and capital construction programs by playing Powerball,” according to his office. Before legalization, the numbers games just lined the pockets of violent criminals. Now, they help fund schools and roads.
Legalization also worked when the United States decided to end Prohibition. The Mafia doesn’t control the liquor industry, multinational corporations do. And whatever else you can say about them, rival corporate CEOs rarely bomb one another.
It’s never easy to legalize a “vice.”
The opponents of legalized video poker are still screaming about the “massive expansion” of sinful gambling it represents, as if the tens of thousands of machines that illegally pay out somehow don’t exist.
While most opponents are quite sincere, all their opposition really ends up doing is helping the mob. People are going to gamble. If a game of chance is illegal, the mob will find a way to make money. Lots of money. And then other people are going to be hurt, or killed, or bombed or bribed or whatever. Bet on it.
Lately, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has been pushing hard to lower the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. There’s no reason, she says, to keep locking people in steel cages with violent criminals simply because they’ve decided to put something into their own bodies.
Preckwinkle appears to be making progress with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who said this week that he’s “all in favor” of issuing tickets for possessing small amounts of pot.
And while this is a necessary first step, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It would be like decriminalizing a can of beer instead of ending Prohibition, or handing out small fines for possessing a numbers ticket in the 1960s. It doesn’t stop the real, festering societal problem of the control of vice by pathologically violent criminals.
If you truly want to hurt the Outfit and the street gangs, the only proven method is to legalize, regulate and tax their vice products.