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Editorial: Casinos leave corruption in their wake



Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2014
It’s unclear whether proponents of casino gambling, including New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, will take another stab at passing legislation to expand gambling. Meanwhile, the state’s Gaming Regulation Oversight Authority, created by the Legislature in 2013 in case a casino bill passed, should update its website to include the following number: 1-844-NO-BRIBE (622-7423).

The number connects callers to a new hotline established by the Boston office of the FBI to encourage citizens to report suspected incidents of bribery or corruption involving public officials, including those charged with regulating casinos and other forms of gambling.

The hotline is necessary, FBI Special Agent Vincent Lisi told the Associated Press, because the increased legalization and regulation of gaming, a multi-billion dollar industry, sets the stage for corruption. The gambling industry admits that it spends heavily to lobby in favor of permitting new and expanded forms of gaming, though it denies that it is responsible for the corruption of public officials.

Plenty of people in a position of trust have succumbed to the temptation to bend the rules, look the other way or award contracts in exchange for a little greasing of the palm, not just those who regulate gaming. Lisi, whose office covers Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, pointed to a scheme to defraud the Navy of $18 million, the bribery conviction of a Massachusetts House speaker and the participation of one or more people with mob connections in the campaign to open casinos in Massachusetts.

If Lisi’s office covered New Jersey, however, he would have had a long list to submit. Casinos were opened in the Garden State in 1978. In 2008, the AP, in a story on the resignation of Atlantic City’s mayor, pointed out that four of his eight predecessors were arrested on corruption charges. According to a study on casino gambling and political corruption conducted by two College of Charleston professors, in 2006 three of Atlantic City’s nine city councilors were in prison and in 2009, 44 New Jersey officials, including a mayor, were arrested on corruption charges.

The study’s authors admitted that most of their evidence was anecdotal. No clear link between the casino industry and corruption was established, but the potential for corruption – when big profits are to be made by weakening regulation, securing a license or convincing lawmakers to reduce the state’s share of the take – is obvious.

New Hampshire attorneys general, from Warren Rudman and David Souter in the 1970s on have, at least until recently, been unanimous in their staunch opposition to expanded gambling because of its potential for corruption, increased crime and effect on the state’s quality of life. The state’s current attorney general, Joseph Foster, favors strict regulation if expanded gambling is approved but has not made his overall position clear.

Expanded gambling, whether through casinos, keno parlors or slot machines in bars, isn’t the answer to New Hampshire’s budget problems. It’s a bigger problem waiting to happen. A lot is at stake. Last year, a Senate bill to permit two casinos failed in the House by a single vote so the gambling authority shouldn’t wait. It should act now to add the hotline number, 1-844-NO-BRIBE, to its website.