David Blankenhorn: History tells us the slot machine is a loser
January 31, 2014
Appeared in the print edition of Sunday’s Tallahassee-Democrat
Dramatically expanding the number of slot machines in Florida is not a new idea.
In 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, Florida became only the second U.S. state (Nevada in 1931 was the first) to legalize slot machines in order to raise public revenue. It turned out to be a terrible experience for the state.
Almost overnight, as one Miami writer put it, slot machines were “in drug stores, hardware stores, ladies ready-to-wear and filling stations; in hotels, lunch wagons, and hay and grain stores. In fact, everywhere.”
He adds: “And Southern hospitality and courtesy were never more clearly shown than in the willingness of the slot machine operators to give a stranger change. They’d sit there and give you nickels and dimes until your last dollar was gone, without a murmur of complaint.”
A lot of tourists lost a lot of money, but so did a lot of Floridians. The slot machine owners called them “amusements,” but what happened across the state was not very amusing. Delinquency increased. Petty crime increased. Public morale declined. Daily life became a bit more tawdry. Angry citizens soon formed a statewide anti-slot machine campaign.
The promise that legalized slot machines would help Florida’s economy turned out to be a bad joke. A St. Petersburg newspaper editorial said: “Circulating money through slot machines has precisely the same effect on business as throwing coins into the air so that people may scramble for them. There is no purchase of goods involved; it is simply and purely redistribution of money.” State Rep. LeRoy Collins, who opposed the legalization and who later become governor, concluded that gambling in Florida, whether legal or illegal, “kills more business than it generates.”
Contact: Michael Joe Murphy