Photo from the Library of Congress
A famous photograph of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia sledgehammering slot machines was part of a public campaign waged by the mayor against the mafia in the 1930s. Taking to the radio, LaGuardia told New Yorkers, “Let’s drive the bums out of town,” and on this particular day in September 1934, the mayor tossed the first of 1200 confiscated slot machines into Long Island Sound off Eaton’s Neck.
In a Getty Images video, LaGuardia smashes a slot machine and then faces the camera to say: “Let the gamblers, tinhorns, racketeers and gangsters take notice that they have to keep away from New York from now on.” Whether the slots still exist at the bottom of the sound is unsure, but the king of slots, Frank Costello, moved his racketeering activities to New Orleans as a result.
A little known piece of gambling trivia: Slot machines actually found their start in Brooklyn as an added novelty to typical bar amusements. They were rigged from the beginning. The “mechanical pickpockets,” in New York City, as Police Commissioner Louis J. Valentine called them, were disposed of after parts of confiscated machines were found recycled in other gambling devices, demonstrating the reach of the mafia in all levels of government at the time.