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My Turn: Expanded gaming is what the people want

  • Millenium Gaming unveils latest plans for casino to Salem residents at Rockingham Park on May 8, 2013. It is now a $600 million casino. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Millenium Gaming unveils latest plans for casino to Salem residents at Rockingham Park on May 8, 2013. It is now a $600 million casino.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Rendering of Millennium Gaming's proposed racetrack clubhouse at Rockingham Park in Salem, presented on Wednesday, May 08, 2013.

    Rendering of Millennium Gaming's proposed racetrack clubhouse at Rockingham Park in Salem, presented on Wednesday, May 08, 2013.

  • Millenium Gaming unveils latest plans for casino to Salem residents at Rockingham Park on May 8, 2013. It is now a $600 million casino. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Rendering of Millennium Gaming's proposed racetrack clubhouse at Rockingham Park in Salem, presented on Wednesday, May 08, 2013.

In just a few weeks, the New Hampshire House of Representatives will have a great opportunity to stand up for working men and women by passing SB 152, the bill to bring casino gaming to New Hampshire. Polls show the people of New Hampshire are strongly in favor of this proposal, and our legislators would do well to listen to their constituents.

Independent projections show that SB 152 will create thousands of good jobs and bring in millions of dollars in revenue to fund critical state priorities like education. The New Hampshire House should do the right thing for their constituents and vote to pass SB 152.

According to the most recent UNH Survey Center poll from April 12, 63 percent of Granite Staters support expanded gaming. Most (53 percent) would support a casino in their own home town, and support is above 57 percent in every region of the state.

Contrast this with the 17 percent of Granite Staters who prefer to increase state revenue through an income tax (from the Feb. 11 UNH Survey Center poll). Clearly, SB 152 is what the people want.

Opponents of casino gaming, however, could care less about the people’s preference. Every day we hear another shrill admonition from the anti-gaming lobby that the so-called “social costs” of a casino will outweigh the revenue and job creating benefits. They are wrong, and I question their motivations.

The anti-gaming lobby happens to be made up of the same vocal minority who want an income tax in New Hampshire. And they’re the very same people behind groups like “Casino Free NH” and “Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.”

These wealthy income tax crusaders don’t need the jobs SB 152 will create, and they won’t feel the impact of drastic cuts to state services. They talk about “social costs,” but they won’t feel the cost of rising unemployment. They arrogantly believe they know better than the majority of Granite Staters who support expanded gaming, and they’re willing to spend huge sums of cash to influence our Legislature.

The reality is, a majority of the people of New Hampshire support expanded gambling because they know this proposal will bring incredible benefits to our state by counteracting rising unemployment and helping to fund important priorities like education.

The most recent numbers from New Hampshire Employment Security show a half-percent increase in unemployment compared with 2012. This disturbing trend underscores the critical importance of creating jobs in New Hampshire.

SB 152 will bring $425 million in private investment into our state and create thousands of jobs.

Estimates from Strategic Market Advisors, a consulting firm working on gaming issues, show that SB 152 will create a total of 3,165 on-site construction jobs.

That number increases to 4,820 when you consider the impact of increased economic activity due to the construction project.

An additional 2,000 permanent full-time equivalent jobs will be created to operate the casino. With an estimated 43,000 unemployed workers in our state, these jobs can’t come soon enough.

SB 152 will also boost state revenue significantly, allowing us to restore critical funding to our education system and prevent hospitals from taking an increased hit from uncompensated care costs. The Office of Legislative Budget Assistant and the New Hampshire Lottery Commission project $135 million in revenue as early as 2015, including a guaranteed $80 million licensing fee.

Annual state revenue is estimated at $152 million per year by 2017 and is expected to grow.

Our state desperately needs this revenue.

Without it, we’ll be forced to cut $12 million from our university system, $30 million from hospitals and $7.5 million from school building aid. The cost of under-funding our children’s education and our health care system will cost our society dearly over the long run.

The leaders of the anti-gaming lobby don’t care about creating jobs for New Hampshire workers. They don’t care about the immediate funding crisis our state faces. They would rather see increased strain on state services because it helps their argument that New Hampshire needs an income tax.

The vast majority of Granite Staters support expanded gaming and oppose an income tax.

Our legislators should stand with their constituents and vote to pass SB 152. Doing so will create thousands of badly needed jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in critical state revenue, and will keep an income tax at bay.

It’s what the people want. I hope our legislators side with us.

(Jim Casey is a former New Hampshire Department of Labor commissioner.)

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