Editorial: Casinos are a losing proposition for New Hampshire
Every time the ship of state’s budget springs a leak, the casino sharks circle. “Jump, we’ll save you. Trust us,” they cry. They have been cruising the State House aisles in squadrons in advance of today’s House vote on a Senate bill that would authorize the opening of two casinos. As in the past, that vote should be “No.”
The sharks were drawn to the State House by the smell of the red ink spilled when Hillsborough North Superior Court Judge Philip Mangones ruled unconstitutional the state’s Medicaid Enhancement Tax on hospital revenue. If the state Supreme Court concurs, as it should, the estimated two-year loss in state revenue will be $374 million. That’s far more than even the most optimistic of projections for how much the casinos would pay into state coffers.
Savvy representatives know what that means. The first thing to go when the take doesn’t fill the budget hole will be the casino bill’s promised $25 million in revenue to be shared with New Hampshire’s 234 cities and towns. By then, it will already be too late. The gambling industry will have its teeth firmly fastened on the neck of this family-friendly state.
Casinos, with their rows of one-armed bandits programmed to keep people betting with near wins and small payouts, lead to more problem gamblers and gambling addicts. Since most of a casino’s customers, save perhaps for those in places like Las Vegas, come from within a 50-mile radius, many of those who develop a gambling addiction will be New Hampshire residents. Families suffer when money is wasted on gambling. Often they break up.
Though the extent is debatable, casinos have been associated with an increase in robbery, theft, assault, fraud, embezzlement and other crimes. An analysis by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies estimated that one large casino in southern New Hampshire would lead to an additional 1,200 crimes committed.
Less debatable, we believe, is the harm that one, let alone two casinos would do to existing New Hampshire businesses and the people they employ.
Money spent at a casino is money not spent on other things – shopping in New Hampshire’s famously sales-tax-free stores, for example, or dining in its restaurants. Las Vegas casinos get about half their revenue from non-gambling sources, which include restaurants, retail stores, concert venues and hotels.
New Hampshire’s existing entertainment venues will suffer the most if the House permits casinos to open. Since they can use gambling revenue to subsidize what they pay artists, casinos outbid other venues for talent. That means places like the Capitol Center for the Arts, Music Hall in Portsmouth, Colonial Theatre in Keene and the Lebanon Opera House won’t be able to book the highly profitable acts that make up for the shows that draw a smaller audience. Some venues would probably close.
The casino bill, in addition to the revenue-sharing sweetener for municipalities, contains another sop meant to soothe nonprofits. It would establish a mitigation fund to compensate them for business lost to the casinos, but the negotiation would by nature be one-sided given the deep pockets and legal talent a casino could draw upon.
A vote in favor of today’s two-casino bill would be a vote against a representative’s local restaurants, retail businesses and entertainment venues. The House should reject this latest effort by the gambling lobby that, if it succeeds, would permanently change the nature of the Granite State.