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October 28, 2008

Election Worry

Roy Meachum

Readers may recall I take a certain pride in making up my mind well in advance about election personalities and issues. Not always, helas! This resolution on slot machines remains unresolved for me. I suspect I'm not alone. Please allow me to point out personal problems.


Even in New Orleans' Depression years, things were not wide-open. Many people played the lottery no matter what the law said. Aunt Kate was unique because she had her tickets and winnings delivered by a pair of the city's "finest." The detectives rolled up to the house on Second Street in a department touring car, complete with canvas top and side flaps.


For what passed as serious gambling among the middle-class, there were trips organized for the bingo halls of St. Bernard Parish; that name should be familiar. Katrina leveled the lower 9th ward and kept rolling through. When I made my post-hurricane visit, I was told Aunt Kate's one-time "sin" halls had been wiped out.


Slot machines were not legal at that time; still, as with the lottery, some law-enforcement officials had a talent for not seeing them, especially when their palms were greased. Leander Perez comes to mind; his greater fame came from his losing fight against integration. The notorious sheriff of Plaquemines Parish evidently liked the feel of gaming industry money when it slipped through his hands.


During that same era, prostitution thrived, not in New Orleans alone. Right after World War II, I visited a casino in Lafayette, capital of the Cajun country. Openly I was asked if I wanted "a girl." Every gambling Mecca attracts what are sometimes called "fancy women."


Still, staking out my position when first writing on the issue, I said I didn't want to be a hypocrite. My New Orleans-bred sense holds that banning vices makes them more attractive. I still hold that view. On the other hand, legalizing slots creates situations that must be considered.


Since it's already been mentioned, prostitution. Even with blue-nose laws and a public attitude that strongly disapproves of the vice older than history, I really wonder whether the affected jurisdictions are prepared for pimps moving their female armies into their neighborhoods.


Before endorsing slots, the state Fraternal Order of Police took pains to point out the crime statistics reach lower numbers year-after-year when the one-armed bandits come to town; I suspect the non-violent statistics – that includes prostitution – nose dives pulling crime rates down. In places like Charles Town where the racetrack's looked upon as the economy's anchor, local cops tend to do little to hurt the spending of money and blossoming of jobs. Why spoil a good thing for everybody?


Most of all I'm worried because the politicians go back-and-forth. When Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich pushed for slots, there were simply not enough votes to back the notion. Now that Mr. Ehrlich is out of office, I can't truly fathom why the former governor turned against legalized the gambling devices. I understand that he was big to save Maryland's thoroughbred industry. The proposed measure would shove funds toward schools and other necessities. I may have that wrong.


My friends and colleagues have their own versions.


This is the quandary I'm still trying to figure out one week before I cast my vote. Then there's the long-time, inherited attitude toward hypocrisy. I may solve the whole problem by asking for an absentee ballot. If there are technical difficulties, Pushkin and I can amble over to Winchester Hall. The English pointer is very patient; he'll wait outside. No dogs are permitted in the elections office.


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