Who Runs the Gambling Machines?

Ever since taking office, GOVERNOR ADLAI E. STEVENSON of Illinois has earned a larger than local reputation for his power to speak out on problems which most politicians prefer to leave alone. In the article which follows he punctures the double standard of gambling in this country; he makes it clear that reputable citizens who play slot machines in their lodges and country clubs are playing right into the hands of the bigger gamblers higher up. Before his election in 1948. (Governor Stevenson served as assistant to the Secretary of the Navy from 1941 to 1944, assistant to the Secretary of State in 1945, and a delegate to the United Nations in 1946 and 1947.


GAMBLING is illegal in Illinois; yet, until recently, slot machines and gambling de- vices were woefully common. Not only the clubs and saloons but many restaurants. stores, hotels, even filling stations, had their one-armed bandits ready at hand to catch the nickels and dimes of school children and the quarters and half dollars of their parents. Moreover Cook County, which includes Chicago, is the center of the gambling machine manufacturing industry. And there too reside main of our more notorious hoodlums and hustlers of anything illegitimate — and profitable.

People don’t understand how slot machines can be illegal in Illinois while the Federal government collects a tax of $150 per year on each machine. The lawyer can explain the difference between the gambling laws of Illinois and the revenue laws of the United States. The average citizen, however, naturally assumes that when a machine has been properly registered with the Collector of Internal Revenue and the tax has been paid, the owner is entitled to use it. The owner is indignant when gambling devices on which he has paid the Federal tax are confiscated and destroyed under state law.

Effective law enforcement in Illinois with respect to slot machines and similar gambling devices that are Federally taxed has been complicated by popular misconceptions arising from this paradoxical legal treatment by two separate governments. Moral confusions −always a problem with respect to gambling — are intensified. And the paradox is further aggravated when Congress taxes these machines yet prohibits their interstate shipment− which prohibition, by the way, does no good in Illinois, where they are all made.

But the slot machine and gambling have a significance that is not wholly embraced in a discussion of moral and legal confusion. And it is one we should not overlook if we are genuinely concerned about the concentration of power and authority over our lives at higher levels of government.

For more than a year after my inauguration as Governor, the Attorney General of Illinois and I tried through pressure and persuasion of local officials to stop commercial gambling in Illinois, which was one of the most wide-open states in the Union. There were some positive results, but on the whole they were unsatisfactory, and since May, 1950, the Illinois State Police have, at my direction, been engaged in periodic gambling raids in local communities all over the state. The results have been very gratifying, both directly and indirectly, thanks to the contagious effect on local officials of determined and sustained attack by the state.

Some measure of the effectiveness of the State Police raids in Illinois is provided by the figures released from time to time by the collector of Internal Revenue in Springfield on the number of slot machine registrations (for Federal tax purposes) in the seventy-six counties comprising the so-called Southern Internal Revenue District. From the period July 1, 1948, through June 30, 1949, about 8400 slot machines were registered for Federal taxation in this area. Now many more were in use is anybody’s guess. The raids began in May, 1950. For the period of July 1. 1950, through June 30, 1951, the registrations totaled about 3400 — a decline of 60 per cent. And for the first three months of the new license year beginning July 1, 1951, the total registrations were down to 1783.

Copyright 1952, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. Boston 16. Mass. All rights rescrved.

This seemingly remarkable improvement is due, as I say, not only to the State Police action but also to the effect of state intervention in alerting the people and the press locally and stimulating action by their officials. This latter is, of course, precisely the result for which we had hoped.

I measure my words carefully when I say that not a single one of these raids was necessitated by any inherent inability on the part of the local officials to cope with the conditions themselves. In my judgment the problem was neither too big nor too complex for the local officials to handle in a single case.

The State Police force of Illinois is undermanned for its normal duties of patrolling thousands of miles of highways night and day, directing traffic at many congested points, enforcing t ho truck-weight laws, chasing stolen cars, and so forth. They should not have to divert further time and effort to this task of local law enforcement. Those who talk so much about economy in government should reflect that this added duty can only result in higher costs of government, because the taxpayers are required to pay double for law enforcement− to the local officials who fail to do the job and also to the state to do the job for them.

The spectacle of t he state having to use its money and resources to do work which local officials are elected and paid to do is distasteful, to say the least. And the county officials who hold the purse strings and withhold funds honestly needed by conscientious local law enforcement officers are themselves contributing to the very loss of power and responsibility which they deplore.

Now this situation presents, it seems to me, a classic case of why governmental functions climb the ladder to higher levels. In the enforcement of gambling laws, certainly, there is no one higher up reaching down for the added power. Rather, it is being thrust upon us by local default. And it is time we recognized that the “conspiracy” against our liberties from above is too often only a device to excuse our own inaction.

I should like to see the Illinois State Police withdraw from this field and give their full time to their other pressing and important duties. But they are not going to get out while I’m in if by doing so law enforcement will go by default and the hoodlums get the green light to exact their grim toll of our purses, our morals, and our public life.


THE slot machine registration figures show something else which cannot be overlooked. It has been estimated that in 1948 and 1949, 75 percent of the registered gambling devices in Illinois were in taverns and similar public places. For the year beginning July 1, 1950, the Federal registration figures released for these seventy-six counties of Illinois were broken down by location into three categories: taverns, fraternal organizations, and private clubs. For this period the figures showed 37 per cent of the machines in taverns, 49 percent in fraternal organizations, and 14 per cent in the clubs. For the first three months of the new license year beginning July 1, 1951, the distribution was 7 per cent in taverns and 93 per cent in lodges, veterans’ posts, clubs, and so forth. Army and Navy posts no longer bear any of the blame for these results, because Congress a year ago expressly prohibited gambling devices at military installations.

These figures speak for themselves. They speak loudly and insistently of an attempt to establish a double standard of law observance which would negate the concept of equal treatment for all, the most basic concept we have. I have heard all the arguments about how the slot machine in the country club is one thing and the slot machine in the corner saloon another. Of course there is a difference. But I know also that the machine in either place is against the law as it stands on the books; and I know further that the citizen who “harmlessly” violates the law in his country club or fraternal lodge is in no position to, and does not in fact, insist that his elected officers enforce the law in the corner saloon.

By this very act of self-indulgence many of our most reputable and influential citizens sterilze their power and influence to demand and get faithful performance by their local officials. They have tied their own hands and stopped their own mouths — and on this issue they evaporate as a community force. They place honest and conscientious law enforcement officials under intolerable and unwarranted social pressures. They delude themselves that they have discovered a way of maintaining their clubs and activities for nothing — and they pay ten times over in terms of lax law enforcement, corrupted officials, venal politics, opaque morals, and finally the surrender of self-government to higher levels of authority.

When congress decided more than a year ago to prohibit the shipment of gambling devices in interstate commerce, I pointed out that this law might only aggravate our problem in Illinois because virtually all such devices are manufactured in Cook County, Illinois. Clearly the one place where traffic in slot machines could be carried on without falling afoul of Uncle Sam was in this state. Hence, I recommended to the Illinois legislature last spring that the state should supplement the Act of Congress by prohibiting the manufacture of such devices, so that our local law enforcement officers could knock out the traffic at its source.

Two bills were introduced to this end. They never got out of committee. And it was clear to observers of these proceedings that the fraternal and veterans’ organizations and the private clubs were opposed to them. The criminal syndicates didn’t even have to get into the act. They sat back and let the respectable elements do their work for them. Yet many good citizens insist that slot machines in clubrooms have no effect on crime generally, while uniformly they bemoan the way in which Washington and the state capital at Springfield are encroaching on the powers reserved to local government.


AT the annual meeting of the American Bar Association not long ago, the retiring president said that the most serious problem confronting bar and country alike was the trend towards centralization of governmental authority, the constant pushing of old and new public functions up to higher and higher levels. At the same meeting, the assembled membership approved a report of the Bar Association,s Commission on Organized Crime, recommending that state governments assume enlarged responsibilities and functions in the area of law enforcement. Now I am sympathetically conscious of Emerson’s cautionary reminder that consistency is too often the hobgoblin of little minds, and we lawyers fancy that our professional training and experience have a liberating and broadening effect intellectually. Nevertheless, the apparent inconsistency is so transparent that a layman might well conclude that lawyers are no better than anyone else when it comes to keeping clear the relationships between our general principles and their application in concrete cases.

The interest taken by the Bar Association in creating the Commission on Organized Crime is deeply gratifying to everyone concerned with law enforcement and public morals. Those of us whose daily lives touch in any degree upon the problem of crime and law violation need every possible ally to combat cynicism and apathy; and especially we need the positive, active assistance of the lawyers, who by education best understand the problem of law enforcement and its infinite difficulties. Lawyers, too, are peculiarly informed about the structure and functioning of government; they are in a better position than most people to recognize the implications of centralizing transfers of power and responsibility.

With much of the Commission’s report I agree, as I am sure anyone having any experience with the stubborn problem of law enforcement would. I cannot deny the validity of the Commission’s recommendations in spite of the implicit further centralization. Perhaps in that direction lies the only ultimate solution. But I fervently hope it does not. And before we accept further abdication of local responsibility as the only possible solution of the law enforcement problem in the gambling field, we had best consider the consequences very carefully indeed. If it is the only feasible alternative, and if we are obliged to conclude that it is, then so be it, and the shadow of the monolithic state will fall more darkly across our path than most of us have realized. But if the shadow is cast by nothing more than community indifference and selfishness, as I think it is, then surely usurpation of another large field of local responsibility is not the only alternative nor even the best solution.

The Commission in its report accepts and confirms the finding of the Kefauver Committee that “gambling profits are the principal support of bigtime racketeering and gangsterism.”I agree also with the additional finding that “the creeping paralysis of law enforcement which results from a failure to enforce the gambling laws spreads to other types of crimes and leads to a general breakdown in law enforcement.”This spilling over of gambling profits and influences into other fields of still more intrinsic harmfulness and danger is one of the principal reasons why I have been against commercial gambling in Illinois — and why I always shall be. And not the least of the many pernicious effects of lax enforcement in the gambling field is its corrupting influence on politics and political organization. Democracy is not healthy when a large, illegal business — gambling — can control candidates and elections, can defeat and dishearten decent people who venture into politics. It was with this in mind that I said to an earlier American Bar Association convention: “These are the reasons why the dropping of a fifty-cent piece in a slot machine is too often not merely a matter between you and your own conscience or purse.”

But the immediate question is not the evils of nonenforcement of the gambling laws. The immediate question is: How do we deal with this problem without compromising the values of local selfgovernment ?

I think it fair to characterize the Commission’s report and recommendations as looking clearly in the direction of greater power and responsibility for law enforcement at the state level. In the recommendations themselves the pertinent reference is to the drafting of “ model statutes providing for greater state supervision over local law enforcement agencies, the adoption of uniform law enforcement policies and improving the functioning of local law enforcement agencies.” But “supervision" always tends, when spelled out in any context, to include large elements of participation as well as control. And this seems to be borne out by the discussions in the report of specific issues.

For example, the sect ion dealing with prosecutors — State’s Attorneys in Illinois — notes first that the “outstanding characteristic” of these officials in America is that they are not subject to any supervision and direction by any superior outside agency and are “largely independent of central state control.” It then concludes that “if the prosecutor’s office is to serve as an effective barrier against organized crime, the state will have to take a much greater share of the responsibility in exercising a supervisory function over the local prosecutor’s office.” In the research report upon which the conclusion is founded, it is suggested that perhaps prosecutors should be appointed by the Governor rather than elected locally; and that a department of justice should be organized in each state, to which the prosecutor should be directly answerable and which should have general supervision of law enforcement throughout the state.

In the case of local police, it is indicated that the state should “set standards for efficiency in police work, make periodic inspections of police departments, and provide subventions to those departments which meet the state standards.” The Commission concludes that “there must be a greater assumption of responsibility on the part of the state in connection with law enforcement,” and “the state must provide the organization, the money, the manpower and the direction. . . .”

Now, whatever else this all may be and however valid, it is not home rule; it is not local self-government in its most basic aspect — law enforcement. It is a long stride towards, rather than away from, the progressive migration of authority and function from the bottom to the top. The adoption of this report by the legal profession in its national convention in my mind continues to contradict the still echoing applause for the president’s valedictory exhortation that the bar leave no stone unturned to arrest the drift towards government by remote control.

If we mean what we say in this latter regard, then I suggest that it is timely to explore every possible alternative before we embark upon a course of funneling power over law enforcement to the state level. Once that level is reached, the pressures will build up — as they have already begun to do — to effect a further transfer to the Federal government.

I think we should travel that inviting but hazardous road very slowly. In this instance I don’t think we need travel it at all if we cultivate more positively the sense of community responsibility—if we stop preaching so much about the virtues of local management and begin to practice them. In this limited area we can arrest the trend if we but have some will power and perseverance, if we organize and agitate with zeal and persistence. But if we don’t feel a sense of community responsibility for law observance, then let’s stop this hollow wailing about concentration of power and admit that we “asked for it.”

Perhaps the biggest single obstacle to gamblinglaw enforcement in Illinois at this moment is the complacence of the people who play the machines. And all that is needed to overcome it is for otherwise good citizens to show the sense of responsibility themselves that they expect of others.

Why, then, should we throw in the towel and start looking in the direction of greater authority at the state level, especially when we know that you cannot chip away at local government in one place without undermining the whole structure? Why should we discuss vesting authority in the Governor at Springfield to remove local officials who are themselves subject to removal by the voters at the polls? If we mean what we say about the importance of keeping government close to the people, why don’t we first practice what we preach and marshal opinion to get results at home before abdicating our powers to higher levels of government and a new’ hierarchy of law enforcement officials superimposed upon the old? Why should we be thinking about grants of state funds to local units to bribe them to do what they could now do unaided, if only in aroused, vigilant,and unselfish citizenry demanded it ?

While I am on the subject of public responsibility, I should like to point out that public officials don’t corrupt each other; that behind every bribe taker in government is a bribe giver, behind every fixer is a. fix, behind every influence peddler is someone who wants the influence, behind every lobbyist is a pressure group. Who are they? Why, they are “the people.” And sometimes they are not cheaters and scum, but the same “respectable” people who demand that all the officials in a government by the governed should be cleaner than the governed, cleaner than themselves. But that is another subject, which we can leave with emphatic agreement that even one corrupt public official is one too many.

There is a price tag on good local government as there is on everything else. It must be paid for in active and continuing interest in local affairs, in self-denial in all those situations where self-indulgence— the double standard — has a harmful effect on the community at large, in willingness to press issues insistently in the face of strong personal and social pressures.

I do not want to see Springfield take over the control and direction of law enforcement throughout Illinois. All the signposts on that road point to Washington. The values of local government are too great and too inclusive to be frittered away in any single respect without first doing everything we can to preserve them. In law enforcement our problem is not so much to devise new machinery as to make what we have work.