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Editorial: A dozen questions for casino committee

A special legislative committee investigating casino gambling in New Hampshire is expected to vote today on a recommendation to the House of Representatives. The group has worked admirably to study the pros and cons of legislation that has the potential to change the state’s politics, economy and reputation. Before voting, we urge committee members to ask themselves a dozen questions:

∎ Does the bidding process seem fair, or is the legislation rigged to give a single company (Millennium) at a single location (Rockingham Park) in a single community (Salem) the edge? Are you comfortable with that?

∎ Are you convinced that the state’s existing businesses – the entertainment venues, restaurants and hotels run by your constituents in your district – won’t be hurt by a casino? How much damage is okay?

∎ With casinos come social problems: crime, addiction, financial hardship. Is the revenue worth the pain inflicted in individuals and communities? How much pain is okay?

∎ New Hampshire’s track record on treating similar social ills – drug and alcohol addiction, for instance – is not great. Are you confident the state is prepared to deal with an increase in gambling addiction?

∎ Gov. Maggie Hassan and her supporters have argued that casino revenue is the way to finance some critical government programs. They rightly want to do more for the mental health system, higher education and infrastructure. Is this the only way to finance those programs? Is it the best way?

∎ Former governor John Lynch’s gambling commission concluded that it would be critical to put tough and comprehensive gambling regulations in place before licensing a casino. The current legislation would do both simultaneously. Are you comfortable with that?

∎ Is the Lottery Commission the proper agency to oversee a casino? Is it up to the task?

∎ The Massachusetts casino legislation allowed host communities to drive hard bargains with their casino suitors. If a casino is allowed at the Rockingham racetrack site, are you confident Salem and the surrounding communities will get all they deserve?

∎ Hassan has said she’s interested in approving just a single New Hampshire casino. Is that the right approach? If so, are you confident future governors and legislatures will be able to resist proposals from other communities and other deep-pocketed casino companies for more – particularly in difficult economic years?

∎ Does the issuance of a single casino license square with the state Constitution’s prohibition on monopolies?

∎ The New England casino market is quickly becoming crowded. Are you satisfied that a New Hampshire casino will become a true destination for tourists – or does it have the potential to become an afterthought to gamblers lured more easily to Massachusetts and Connecticut?

∎ Will New Hampshire maintain its family-friendly brand among tourists – or will the state’s marketing efforts be dwarfed by those of the casino?

The state’s endless budget woes, the governor’s support, and the development of casinos just over the border in Massachusetts have no doubt put new pressure on the House to reverse its historic aversion to expanded gambling.

The gambling committee’s recommendation will carry great weight with the House. Let’s hope the members know what they’re doing.

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