Editorial: What if gambling fails? (And it should)
Let’s hope that there’s a Plan B. While there’s much to love in the first budget presented by Gov. Maggie Hassan – including more money for higher education and $28 million to address the failing mental health care system – her plan counts on $80 million in revenue from licensing the state’s first casino. But expanded gambling is not the answer to the state’s structural deficit and revenue problems. We urge the New Hampshire House, which has rejected casino gambling on a host of occasions, to do so again.
Hassan supports a single, high-end casino in the southern part of the state, presumably at Salem’s Rockingham Park raceway. She included $40 million from the license fee in her 2014 budget and another $40 million the following year. Going forward, she assumes that the state will take in “tens of millions of dollars” annually by taxing the casino’s winnings. Both estimate are suspect, at best. Given Massachusetts’s decision to site a casino somewhere between Boston and the New Hampshire border, and the national decline in gambling revenue, we doubt that anyone would pay $80 million for a license, unless that is, the state taxes casino revenue at a rate far lower than the rates charged by other states. It’s also unlikely that, even if approved, license revenue would arrive in time to balance the governor’s budget.
Both questions will be moot if the House says “no” to a casino. It has plenty of reasons to do so. Former governor John Lynch, in the last days of his fourth term, listed some of them. Once one casino was permitted, he saw no way to prevent others from following. Neither do we. The state’s take from a single casino will never be enough to allow the state to meet its obligations, so the temptation to allow them to proliferate will be big. So will the influence on lawmakers of a growing gambling lobby with money to burn.
Casino revenue, as the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies reported last month, continues to decline. The more casinos proliferate e_SEnD Maine now has two and Massachusetts will soon have three – the less revenue each will take in.
Any honest estimate of the state’s net take from a casino, or the number of jobs added, must consider the added expense of addressing the social costs that come with expanded gambling and the impact of diverting a large block of disposable income away from existing businesses. That will cost jobs. Add to that the damage expanded gambling will have on the state’s brand as a family destination and outdoor paradise, and the net financial effect will be negligible and perhaps even negative.
Hassan, with help from a volunteer team of old hands and budget experts, did an admirable job of creating a budget that goes a long way toward repairing the damage done by the last Legislature with irresponsible cuts to spending and revenue. Her proposals to build a 328-bed, $38 million women’s prison, spend $28 million to augment grossly inadequate mental health services, better fund higher education, and restore some money wrongly taken from the state’s hospitals, if implemented, could lead to the settlement of lawsuits. Her estimates of revenue increases from existing sources are conservative. But it’s hard to cheer a budget that’s based in good measure on something that shouldn’t happen.
The state has, in the past, balanced its budgets by taxing the poor at a rate four times that of the rich, by using federal money meant to provide health care for the poor to fill the general fund and, in the last budget, by taxing non-profit hospitals and hospice beds. Its governor now wants to meet the state’s needs in a way that guarantees more problem gamblers and gambling addicts and less revenue for the state’s existing restaurants and other businesses. That makes Hassan’s offering yet another disappointing budget.