Casino gambling was not an issue in the presidential campaign, but in the very month of President Reagan's inauguration it grew as an issue in various states. Mr. Reagan has a proper respect for states' rights, but it would not be an invasion of those rights for him to cast the moral weight of the presidency against casinos before they and the corruption in their train become a national menace.
In New York, Governor Carey called for a state constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling. In Massachusetts, Lieutenant Governor O'Neill joined a number of legislators in opposing casinos after a Las Vegas firm began planning to set up operations in two towns. These January events were only among the latest items in a trend that already involves the consideration of legalized casinos in more than a dozen states.
To some observers the casinoizing of America is only a matter of time. But the President could inspire more Americans to stand up and be counted like the Massachusetts residents who have been meeting to oppose the Las Vegas invasion.
Many supporters of the President have been puzzled by the Reagans' effusive display of affection for Frank Sinatra even after the criticism of Mr. Reagan's lawyer and now attorney general, William French Smith, for having attended Mr. Sinatra's birthday party. The criticism stemmed from Mr. Sinatra's alleged association with organized crime figures and a report that he had listed Mr. Reagan as a reference on a Nevada application for a casino license.
The President could clear the air by indicating that any personal friendship or professional theatrical regard for Mr. Sinatra does not mean toleration of the casino industry. Thus at the highest level he would also be giving heart to people fighting to keep casinos out of their communities.
These citizens now have to resist not only the lobbying by "legitimate" casino business interests and the pressures of organized crime but the increasing chorus of public figures claiming casinos as a panacea for budgetary problems. No matter that, despite the enormous sums changing hands, the rewards to government are small: "Gambling revenues, even generously estimated, form no more than a token contribution to the total receipts of state and local governments," says a specialist on gambling economics. No matter that the casinos tend to increase crime. It's absurd for casino supporters to claim, as one recently did in Massachusetts, that any added crime could be met because the casino taxes would make it possible to hire more police!
Atlantic City has not found the crime problem so comfortable. Violent crimes there had been declining until the casinos opened, followed by an increase of about 30 percent. White-collar crime and corruption have also reportedly risen. The national public got a hint of it with the implicating of some New Jersey officials in Abscam -- and the investigation of Sen. Harrison Williams, who allegedly tried to influence the granting of a casino license.
The latest news from Atlantic City is that the casinos themselves have eeen losing money, that expected construction is not going ahead, that the casino interests are trying to obtain eased regulations and taxes in order to keep profits up. Nor have there been the benefits to people that are often promised to promote casinos. Instead of getting jobs, many of the poor have been forced to leave.
Yet the casino merchants keep trying to peddle their meretricious wares elsewhere. Mr. President, in the spirit of the family, the neighborhood, the honest productive work to which you have called the nation, please lend a hand to those trying to hold the line.