I was appointed as an assistant Erie County district attorney in 1975. My job was to prosecute the various criminal matters filed in the county’s courts.
Many of the cases in my assigned courts involved prosecutions for those accused of running a “numbers” lottery, bookmaking on horse races, crap games and card games, sports bookmaking, and drug sales involving marijuana and other recreational narcotics.
I saw many individuals accused of these crimes prosecuted and convicted as dangers to society. After conviction, the people were often sentenced to fines, probation and/or imprisonment. A few years later, I noticed that the State of New York, which led the crusade to eradicate these crimes, was defecting to the other side.
Under the exaggerated justification of generating tax revenues to balance the state’s books, New York first went into the business of a state lottery, which ultimately replaced the “numbers” rackets. Thereafter, the state opened Off Track Betting parlors, knocking out the horse bookmakers.
Casino gambling came next, closing down card rooms and floating crap games. The state just recently went into the sports betting business, which further eroded the bookmaking business. Each time, the governor and the Legislature looked at the state’s financial mess and decided to usurp the role and income of the criminals.
There was also some of the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. Sadly, each time the state took the leap in legalizing heretofore illegal operations, more people gravitated to these dangerous and self-destructive activities.
Yet, the resulting tax revenues to the state never met expectations, causing the Albany power brokers to look for still more sources.
Now, the idea gaining momentum is to legalize marijuana so that the state coffers can be filled on the retail sale and purchase of this gateway drug from state regulated and taxed dispensaries. I will wager (legally) that the projected tax revenues will never meet their mark because users will still buy cheaper on the black market from unregulated and untaxed street dealers.
I would ask Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to spend an hour standing on any street corner observing the number of dysfunctional people, many of whom are intoxicated on something, passing by.
These people are not functioning at a high level or contributing to society. They are often perpetrators or victims of crime and are routinely involved in domestic violence. Making additional intoxicants readily available may raise a few bucks to salve the wounds of government overspending, but at what cost?
Nicholas P. Amigone III is a Buffalo lawyer and former prosecutor.