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Anti-casino groups speak against N.H. Senate’s two-casino bill

The two-casino bill that passed through the Senate last week is filled with false promises that the House has already soundly rejected, anti-casino groups said yesterday.

“This bill looks a lot like a late-in-the-game substitution by a coach who faces possible defeat,” said Harold Janeway of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and Casino Free New Hampshire.

Janeway joined Concord developer Steve Duprey, another leading anti-casino voice, for a press conference yesterday to speak against this legislative session’s last casino bill. The bill to legalize two casinos passed the Senate 15-9 two weeks after the House rejected a one-casino bill by 29 votes. Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, amended the two-casino bill to include all the regulations from the House bill and added in a revenue sharing provision that would split $25 million between cities and towns each year.

Janeway and Duprey said these latest additions are attempts to buy votes and wouldn’t negate the social ills a casino will bring. Adding two casinos to the bill goes against all of the promises made by casino supporters that legalizing one wouldn’t lead to proliferation, Janeway said. Furthermore, studies show proximity is a major factor in gambling addiction, and building two casinos would put that risk closer to more New Hampshire residents, he said. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, strongly supports expanded gambling but campaigned on only one casino.

“No longer is proliferation a risk – we’ve got it. It’s built in and baked into the bill,” Janeway said.

Guaranteeing money to cities and towns through revenue sharing is also a false promise, they said, because a future Legislature can change the law any time it wants. D’Allesandro and other casino advocates have been pushing for expanded gambling for 15 years, and each bill comes with new promises about where the money would go.

The revenue sharing included in the bill uses a formula that was in place until 2010, when the Legislature froze it. Starting in 1970, the state created a formula to send a portion of general fund money back to every community annually. Under that formula, Concord would get back $1.2 million annually, while smaller communities would receive lesser amounts. Bow, for example, would get $101,382 annually and Boscawen would get $49,771.

Supporters of the casino bill acknowledged yesterday that those numbers could change if the formula was updated, which it hasn’t been in decades. Still, they said, revenue sharing is an important means for providing tax relief to local communities.

“The people of New Hampshire are asking for property tax relief,” said Rep. Candace Bouchard, a Concord Democrat who also serves as a city councilor.

Duprey and Janeway also pushed back against arguments that New Hampshire stands to lose tens of millions to Massachusetts’s casinos, something Hassan cites as a reason to legalize a casino. A Massachusetts gaming commission will award a casino license soon in one of several locations close to the New Hampshire border. Casino advocates say New Hampshire residents will travel to these casinos and bring the social costs back to New Hampshire anyway, so New Hampshire should get the benefits of a casino as well. But Janeway said New Hampshire will also lose money because the casino owners will be from out of state and won’t keep their money here.

As for opinion polling that shows a majority of state residents favor a casino, Duprey said those opinions would change if the question included details about the negative effects a casino could bring.

“I can guarantee you, having spent a few years around politics, if I word the question right I can make you like the devil reincarnate,” he said.

After the press conference, casino supporters said they think this two-casino bill is a better one that could draw more House supporters than the one-casino bill. New Hampshire desperately needs a new source of revenue, and casinos would provide that, supporters said.

“The opponents advocate doing nothing to address our revenue needs, thus ensuring that once again, no revenue sharing funds will go to the towns and cities which need them,” Rep. Lucy Weber, a Walpole Democrat, said in a statement. “The time has come to stop telling our adult citizens what we think is good for them.”

D’Allesandro, the bill’s prime sponsor, said he hopes the House will have an open hearing and debate on the issue.

But Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat, casino opponent and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the House has spent enough time debating casinos.

“We have had so much open debate in the House on this for the last two years,” she said. “I’m sick of it.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Rep. Almy, I'm sick of it, too. The entire time we waste fantasizing about the riches casinos could bring is time that could be spent finding more responsible, stable revenue sources. Clearly, all sides now agree we need revenue, but casinos stand in the way of any real debate about anything else. Lawmakers are like the Powerball player who dreams of buying that deserted island paradise instead of going to that job interview to pay his rent.

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