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My Turn: Casino gambling is the wrong answer

Conservatives were kicked in the knees by November’s election results, and now we are facing legislation that should strike fear in the hearts of those who believe in life, families and free markets.

The first battle we will face is over expanded gambling. New Hampshire is known for its tourism, hospitality and natural beauty, from the White Mountains to the Lakes Region to the Seacoast. This healthy, family-friendly image and New Hampshire’s well-earned reputation for being a great state to raise a family are now at risk.

As executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, I ardently defend the Legislature’s desire to balance the state budget and recognize that this is a budget year for the New Hampshire Legislature. But it is imperative that we seek to balance the budget through cutting spending and not through morally questionable activities that will cost us more money in the long run.

To avoid difficult budget choices, some legislators are backing bills to rush through approval of expanding gambling. They believe they will receive revenue from licensing from one or more casinos. It is unrealistic to expect that a casino will be built in time for revenue to arrive in 2014. These same legislators are also factoring this license revenue into the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, knowing that this is not realistic. This desperate move would be a grave error – even for those who want casinos here – because this license revenue would not become available until late 2015 at the earliest. For those concerned about keeping New Hampshire family-friendly, all angles of building a casino here in the Granite State need to be researched and not be rushed to put a temporary Band-Aid on our budget.

Other states have grappled with the issue of expanded gambling. States such as Arizona have accepted the arguments of out-of-state gambling interests, believing that new casinos lead to higher revenue and lower taxes. They soon came to realize that quite the opposite is true: Gambling ultimately leads to expanded taxes, increased crime and broken families.

Studies have shown that gambling often hurts, not helps, existing businesses by siphoning away discretionary dollars that might otherwise have been spent at local shops, which are at the heart of our economy. Also, the economic costs associated with gambling such as losses due to crime, additional law enforcement costs, as well as gambling addiction treatment costs are staggering, often far exceeding a state or community’s total revenue from gambling.

Is building a casino in New Hampshire an idea that stems from innovation or is it an act of desperation in a search to find new revenue opportunities? Responsible governing is critical. Making rash decisions that could have a lasting impact on our state would be harmful to Granite Staters.

Cornerstone-Action and Cornerstone Policy Research are nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations dedicated to preserving New Hampshire’s traditional values, limited government and free markets through education, information and advocacy. Our vision is to create an environment in which strong families – the foundation of our society – can lead New Hampshire into a new era of prosperity and strength. For more information, please visit nhcornerstone.org .

(Ashley Pratte is executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research and Cornerstone Action.)

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