My Turn: Casino would hurt the Cap Center – and other nonprofits across the state
In Rep. Katherine Rogers’s recent pro-casino column (“Look at the facts: Casino makes sense,” Monitor Forum, Feb. 12), she argued that House Bill 1633 answers the concerns about the effect of a casino on nonprofit and municipal entertainment venues. As executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts, I offer a different point of view.
The Capitol Center for the Arts appreciates that HB 1633 acknowledges that a New Hampshire casino will hurt nonprofit live entertainment venues in New Hampshire. However, although HB 1633 requires casino license applicants to develop mitigation agreements to address issues such as exclusivity, scheduling and cross-marketing, the bill does not provide meaningful protection for nonprofit performing arts centers in the state for the following reasons:
1. Casinos, with their deep pockets, can and do outbid nonprofit performing arts centers for headliner talent, which then serves as a “loss leader” to pull people into the casino, where the ultimate goal is to get people to gamble. None of the provisions in the bill addresses the competitive advantage casinos have in booking talent – nor can they, as artists and their agents have the ultimate power to choose where they perform. Everyone in the booking business knows artists will choose the venue with the larger fee every time. The beautiful historic nonprofit theaters we all enjoy in New Hampshire will be shut out of any possible negotiations for headlining acts.
2. The bill is asking small nonprofits with limited staff (many of whom are part time or volunteers) and limited financial resources to retain legal counsel and negotiate any mitigation agreements with large, well-financed businesses in the gaming industry. Unable to compete with the professional casino industry, New Hampshire’s nonprofit arts presenters cannot enter into any negotiations on equal footing.
3. The amendment under consideration to limit the size of an entertainment venue for a casino to 1,500 seats is a concession to the Verizon Center but takes dead aim at the Capitol Center for the Arts. As a 1,300-seat venue, we will be asked to compete for exactly the same tier of headliner talent: those artists who will sell 800 to 2,000 tickets.
With this kind of competitive advantage casinos are going to hurt community life across the state. Performing arts centers such as the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, the Colonial in Keene, the Music Hall in Portsmouth and the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon serve as anchors of community life and as gathering places and resources for all. That means that any profit that the Capitol Center makes from presenting well-known artists such as Willie Nelson or Bill Cosby helps to offset the presentation of theater, dance, and opera as well as performances for school groups, local dance recitals, and fundraising performances for social service agencies such as Child and Family Services and CATCH Neighborhood Housing. If venues such as the Capitol Center cannot book the headliner acts to finance these kinds of other important (but less profitable) artists, events and activities, then no other venue will (certainly not casinos).
These community-enriching performances and events will simply be lost.
The economic benefit to our downtowns that local performing arts centers bring cannot be over-emphasized. Here in Concord, our restaurants are filled when the Capitol Center has a show and hotels and Main Street merchants are busy when dance competitions and arts festivals are scheduled. The addition of casinos to New Hampshire will destabilize the cultural life in many communities, and those negative effects outweigh any proposed benefits.
I know there is pressure to support HB 1633 as proponents cite the much-needed revenue stream it will provide for New Hampshire. However, I hope legislators take the time to look at what has happened in Delaware. Though revenue started off strong, it has dropped to the point that in June 2013 Delaware’s General Assembly approved an $8 million bailout to pay for licensing fees on slot machines. In other words, the state bailed out the casinos. Is that what we want for our own state?
Casinos continue to be a bad bet for New Hampshire.
(Nicolette B. Clarke is executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord.)