The Baleful Influence of Gambling

A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School, Robert F. Kennedy managed his brother's campaigns first for the Senate and then for the Presidency. He won nationwide respect for his firm, intelligent behavior as chief counsel to the. Senate committee which investigated improper activities of racketeers and gamblers, afield of inquiry that he pursues with undiminished force as Attorney General.
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Strong-arm methods, including murder, are common in the illicit narcotics traffic. After a major international narcotics ring was broken up last year, two of the- twenty-four defendants were murdered before completion of the trial. One was shot down in the Bronx; the burned body of the other was found near Rochester, New York. The business executive, factory worker, and housewife never encounter the seamy side, but this is what their bets are financing. Again I ask, Is this really the way the American people want it to be?

This Administration is making a major effort to bring organized crime and racketeering under control. Congress, in the last session, with strong support from Democrats and Republicans, aut•hoñzed the Justice Department for the first time to deal with gambling activities. Our theory is that if we can reduce the gamblers' income, we will take a first major step toward cutting off the funds which now are being used to bribe public officials and finance the narcotics trade and other underworld activities.

In the past, only three effective laws have permitted the federal government to move against gambling. They are the wagering-stamp and excise-tax statutes, which basically were aimed at collecting revenue for the federal government, not at controlling criminal operations in this country, and a law prohibiting the interstate shipment of slot machines. One of our new laws makes it a federal crime for any person to move in interstate travel to promote or participate in a racketeering enterprise. Some of the nation's most notorious racketeers have been insulated from prosecution by living in one section of the country and having illegal gambling interests in another.

In one case, many of the racketeers who backed one of the nation's big number banks lived in a resort area far from the scene of their illegal operation. Every month a courier with a bag of money was dispatched from the racket enterprise. One month's payment alone was in excess of $250,000. The kingpins of this operation reaped huge profits and remained beyond the reach of the law because they had committed no crimes in the state in which they lived. We plan to move against such activities. The messenger who carries the funds across state lines and those who conspire with him are subject to the new law; and we hope, therefore, that we will be able to dry up this interstate flow of cash, which turns ten-cent bets in one city into massive profits in the hands of big-time hoodlums.

Two other new laws make it a felony to transmit bets and wagers between states by wire or telephone or to transport wagering paraphernalia to another state. Wagering paraphernalia, as defined by Congress, includes tickets; slips, or paper used in bookmaking, sports pools, or the numbers racket.

The new laws, which the President signed on September 13, had an immediate effect on the gambling community. The nation's leading race wire services, including Athletic Publications of Minneapolis, Minnesota—the so-called Minneapolis line, which furnished point spread and other sports handicap information—and the Nola News of New Orleans closed down. Federal field offices and local law-enforcement officials in every section of the nation report the hoodlums who control gambling have curtailed or shut down their activities. Some are even making plans to dispose of their homes and move to other countries that will permit them to operate in the manner to which they have been accustomed.

But many of the gamblers, while making themselves less vulnerable to federal prosecution, are standing by with a wait-and-see attitude. We know they are worried, and from the evidence already in hand, the FBI has estimated that this year alone we may have as many as ten thousand cases for investigation under the new laws. In the first four months that the laws were in effect, more than three thousand cases were brought under investigation.

The two other new laws extended the FBI's authority under the Fugitive Felon Act and prohibited the interstate shipment of weapons to or from persons accused of certain crimes. The Justice Department sought three other bills in the last session which are extremely important. They were enacted by the Senate and are now before the House. One would protect persons cooperating with the FBI from threats or coercion. Another would permit the government to give immunity to certain witnesses in labor-management racketeering cases, and a third would strengthen the 1951 law which prohibits interstate shipment of slot machines. The proposed measure would cover other types of gambling devices, including pinball machines.

The laws themselves, of course, while enabling the federal government to do a better job, will not make the final difference. That must come from the extra effort now being made by all the federal law-enforcement agencies and many local police officials, and from the support which this effort gets from the American people themselves.

The dishonesty of the gambling operations, the degradation of the narcotics and white-slave traffic are bad enough, but what really concerns me is the great wealth of the racketeers and the power that goes with it—the power to corrupt police and public officials, and in some instances, gain political control of an area.

The fundamental strength, of our democracy, which is based on respect for the law, is at stake. Individual citizens, by working to elect honest public officials and raise policemen's pay, can make a major difference in this matter. But in the last analysis it depends on the business executive, the factory worker, and the housewife who have been financing—big-time crime with their twodollar bets and their. ten-cent wagers. If they would stop patronizing the illegal bookie, the numbers runner, and the sports-pool operator, they could take the profit out of gambling and bring organized crime down to size quicker than all the combined efforts of the federal and local law-enforcement agencies.

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