Quiz: What do school upgrades and the mob have in common?
By Michael Lewis
A brochure in the mail the other day told us how to get less-crowded classrooms and improve our schools.
The same day, a mob leader was arrested in Broward County.
The relationship between the two is not that if we educate our kids better, they won't turn to lives of crime.
The link is that both are slot-machine operators.
While the brochure showing a student outside a classroom door with a sign reading "standing room only" comes from a group called YES for Better Schools and Jobs, it's a pitch by lobbyists representing gambling interests to win votes to permit slot machines here legally.
And while the mob leader was accused of stealing $300,000 worth of veal, liquor and salmon, investigators said he also earned income from illegal slot machines in two Broward County lounges, both of which had "Slots" in their name.
This is just the kind of guy we want to encourage here by voting to put slots not in two small lounges but in seven so-called sporting establishments that can attract thousands of people a day. Think of how creative he could get when slots operators would rake in $1 billion in annual profits in Miami-Dade and Broward in just those seven locations.
Schools, by comparison, could get "as much as $111 million more for Miami-Dade and Broward" as a percentage of slots profits, the brochure promises. But that assumes that the Legislature would heavily tax slots, that we would get to keep a big share of the tax here, that funds now going to schools wouldn't be diverted elsewhere and that nobody else from the Bonanno crime family - or any other crime family - wanted to get involved and siphon off the money.
A letter writer who says he has been gambling in casinos for 30 years suggested two weeks ago on this page that what the county has proposed for the March 8 ballot is a "coin-slot fiasco." He wants casino zones instead.
"Stop scaring the people with the crime-scare scenario," he wrote. "Why don't you tell them that currently, the top Mafia leadership lives in South Florida? Tell them how safe Las Vegas is in comparison to South Florida."
I feel so much better knowing that not just a 70-year-old mob captain with a couple of slots lounges in his portfolio is around. It's good to know that the entire leadership is here, ready and waiting for you to vote March 8 to let them get a piece of the slot-machine action - and the expansion to casinos that would follow.
Legalizing slot machines would indeed be the first shot fired (mob forces excluded) in the battle to get those full casinos.
Think of the boon to the real estate industry, which scarcely needs anything to turn up the heat any further. For years, hoteliers have been looking for sites for casinos on the assumption that state law would tie casinos to major hotels. Think of the new battles (again, the mob excluded) for property control.
Unfortunately, the county commission sold out (again, the mob excluded) to the gambling interests and put slots at parimutuel sites on the ballot. How many voters are going to vote for the better schools and "18,200 new, good, permanent jobs" that the slots' brochure promises?
A more important question: Where are local leaders who will stand up and urge us not to vote for the likes of the 23 mob folks arrested two weeks ago who, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office, were involved in loan sharking, stock market scams, distribution of narcotics, offshore sports betting, protection shakedowns of a dozen business owners, racketeering, conspiracy, forgery and attempted manslaughter - in addition to slot machines.
These 23 and their fellow mobsters aren't the folks who are going to be selling this gambling ploy to you. You'll hear instead from good local business folks and maybe even educators who have failed miserably to stand up and say they don't want gambling money or any link between schools and the mob.
You ought to be hearing from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, a former county police chief, who should speak up and answer questions about mob ties to slots. So far, he has walked the fence, saying he doesn't gamble but he won't oppose the issue.
Instead, we're left with brochures showing Johnny at the math-class door and reports of Mafia captains walking through the jailhouse door. That should give us a clue that we shouldn't take a shot (mob forces included) at legalizing 6,500 slot machines here.