State House Memo: Mass. casino rejections are good news for New Hampshire
If you watched election returns from the Bay State Tuesday night, no doubt you saw the results on the issue of gambling. Voters in both Palmer and East Boston rejected proposals to build a casino in their communities. This is good news for New Hampshire.
Central to every proposal to expand gambling in New Hampshire has been the concept of local approval. Our own proposed legislation would allow licensing to go forward only after local approval had been obtained through a vote in the proposed host community. Massachusetts has a similar requirement, and on Tuesday two proposed host communities said no.
The local approval requirement has been part of the contemplated New Hampshire regulatory structure because local approval is at the heart of how New Hampshire governs itself. If the community does not want the project, the project doesn’t happen there. In Massachusetts, two communities said no despite vigorous campaigns in support of proposed casinos. New Hampshire folks know how to say no just as well as those in Massachusetts. Local approval works.
People on both sides of the gambling debate can agree on one significant reality: As soon as casinos open for business in Massachusetts, there will be an immediate and long-term negative effect on New Hampshire. Lawmakers and business leaders agree Bay State casinos will drain millions from New Hampshire’s revenue streams. A study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies concludes our state budget will lose nearly $50 million in revenue from the rooms and meals tax and lottery sales. These estimates are on top of the $80-plus million our residents now spend on gambling outside of New Hampshire annually.
New Hampshire already has “social costs” associated with gambling from the out-of-state activity and the significant unregulated charitable gaming in our state. New gambling facilities that will eventually be sited in Massachusetts will exacerbate this. Neither out-of-state casinos nor New Hampshire-based charitable gambling contributes any resources to help treat with these costs. Part of the revenue of a New Hampshire-based casino would be dedicated to just this purpose.
The vote in Massachusetts Tuesday night has given New Hampshire an unexpected opportunity. We now have the chance to be the first into the marketplace with a gambling facility that meets our needs and conforms to our concerns instead of reacting to what happens to our south.
Tuesday night’s votes force Massachusetts to listen to what its residents want. In New Hampshire, we should do exactly the same thing: listen to what our residents want. And on the question of expanded gambling, what New Hampshire citizens want could not be clearer.
Look at a public opinion survey conducted just last week by the University of New Hampshire. Voters were asked whether they want to legalize expanded gambling in our state. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said yes. Thirty-three percent of those in New Hampshire’s poll oppose gambling, and 8 percent say they are neutral. Given the close margins of so many major issues of our time, that poll is a very clear signal that Granite Staters support gambling. In every region of our state and in every demographic, people support expanded gambling. A UNH poll conducted last February shows almost identical results.
Expanded gambling means a reason to stay and play in New Hampshire. It means jobs. It means non-tax revenue. It means we can beat Massachusetts.
If a clear majority of New Hampshire supports casino gambling, and local control is a central part of any plan considered in our state, then we have the right road map for doing it right.
Gov. Maggie Hassan supports the idea. The GOP-led Senate has strongly endorsed gambling. And a majority of House Democrats voted for gambling.
We are close. Our colleagues said no to gambling last May primarily out of concern over the need for stricter rules and regulations for operating a casino in this state. The state’s gambling authority, made up of law enforcement and legislative leaders, is working on recommendations to create a strict new framework for how a casino would operate in New Hampshire. Their report is due next month, in time to be incorporated into a proposal for lawmakers.
Let’s give our citizens a voice in this debate. We have a new opportunity to compete with Massachusetts and respond to the clear desire of Granite State voters. We have all the ingredients. It’s time to move forward.
(Rep. Linda DiSilvestro is a Democrat from Manchester. Rep. Katherine Rogers is a Democrat from Concord. The column was also signed by Democratic Reps. Raymond Gagnon of Manchester and Laura Pantelakos of Portsmouth.)