The Problem With Enforcing Gambling Laws

Both the public and agents of social control maintain that legal sanctions will not stop gambling.

That people will continue to gamble regardless of the legality of such activities, and that enforcement is an ineffective deterrent.

In 1975, the Boston police commissioner stated in testimony before the federal gambling commission that gambling laws 'are unenforceable laws which nobody wants enforced' and that his police department 'has been unable to permanently end any bookie operators as of this date'.

The trend toward decriminalization of gambling laws has continued as the priority given enforcement has dropped.

Recently, a federal strike force chief stated that authorities do not prosecute bookmakers unless there is a clear and strong organized-crime presence'.

Not all researchers agree that gambling laws are unenforceable.

Thomas Mangione and Floyd Fowler, after analyzing 1976 survey data, concluded that the public would support more stringent enforcement of gambling laws.

Contending that gambling laws could be effectively enforced if police and prosecutors would coordinate their efforts, they suggested various steps to bring about that coordination.

As of yet, their suggestions have not been followed, and gambling enforcement remains on the back burner in most jurisdictions.

An important aspect of gambling enforcement is the issue of police corruption.

The Kefauver Committee, in 1951, uncovered clear evidence of widespread police corruption with respect to illegal gambling enforcement.

Payoffs have become a routine practice that typically involved monthly payments to police groups or pads.

Twenty years later, the Knapp commission uncovered similar payoff systems within the New York City Police Department.

Developments in the last fifteen years, however, have significantly reduced the prevalence of payoffs for protection from gambling enforcement.

New bookmaking practices, the federal incursion into gambling enforcement, and the emergence of narcotics as a major enforcement concern have reduced the need for bookmakers to bribe local officials.

The emergence of telephone betting and the availability of sports results did away with large betting parlors whose obvious visibility required police payoffs.

In the 1960s and 1970s, federal authorities, buttressed by enabling legalization, entered gambling enforcement en masse.

Strike forces were formed in man major cities. No longer were local police charged with the sole responsibility for gambling enforcement.

Local police could therefore no longer guarantee illegal operators protection from prosecution. In many business gambling enforcement and let federal and state officials take over.

Many indications suggest that the federal effort at gambling enforcement was comparatively short-lived.

In recent years, the number of both applications for federal wire traps and gambling convictions have declined significantly.

Federal enforcement efforts have instead been directed at prosecuting the heads of crime syndicates that may have peripheral links to illegal gambling.