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Katy Burns

Katy Burns: Oops! Lemons for casino backers

Once again that old gambling truism was proved right: The House always wins.

In this case, the winner was our House of Representatives, famous (or infamous, if you prefer) for standing staunchly against the expansion of gambling in the Granite State.

Too bad for Gov. Maggie Hassan and a flock of state senators. They bet the farm – well, maybe not so much the farm as the financial future of the state – on expanded gambling, to wit, a “highly regulated, high-end casino” that would flood the coffers with cash.

Instead, as so often happens to wildly optimistic gamblers, they crapped out. They drew a dead man’s hand, they threw snake eyes. They pulled the lever and it came up lemons. And I’d happily continue this merry string of similes but, alas, I am not a gambler myself and my only knowledge of the lingo comes from a stint, back in the dark ages, as stage manager of a community theater production of Guys and Dolls. You get the picture, though.

I’d say it’s sad, but it’s really not. For all the blather about how “high-end” and “highly regulated” this casino would be, it seemed that the more members of the House’s super-committee dug into the details of the proposal, the more the proposal looked like a bad deal for New Hampshire, one designed more to please one particularly well-connected supplicant and to reap maximum benefits for that supplicant than to protect the interests of New Hampshire, its citizenry and its treasury.

For a view of the Senate’s legislation – which breezed through that body almost effortlessly – let’s turn to the inimitable Steve Vaillancourt, currently serving as a Republican representative from the good city of Manchester. Vaillancourt is a staunch supporter of expanded gambling and has been called many things, not all flattering, during his long service in the legislature. But stupid is certainly not one of them. And his summation of the proposal facing the

House was probably the most quoted analysis of the entire debate Wednesday.

“This is a tremendous bill, a real bargain and one that represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he declaimed on the House floor.

“Unfortunately, this is a tremendous bill not for the people of New Hampshire but for one out-of-state gambling interest,” a company, he said, “that has spent endless time and money to convince us this is a bargain.”

There seemed to be general agreement among the nay-sayers that Vaillancourt was on the money. Far be it for me to imply that the governor and a majority of the senate were, well, rubes targeted by city slickers. But I still can’t help thinking that the sharpies at Millennium Gaming saw a really attractive turnip truck just loaded with fresh produce and rosy-cheeked farmers chugging into sight.

And now, it appears, all that schmoozing by the sharpies with the locals and the cash-hungry state officials was for naught. So it is over.

Except that’s it’s not. You know – you know – that Millennium and its lobbyists will be back. Again and again and again. And hot on their heels will be the lobbyists for all the other out-of-state gambling moguls eager to grab what they firmly believe should be their share of Granite Staters’ cash. When they see a state with a tax structure as dysfunctional and as antiquated as ours, totally detached from 21st century reality, they salivate overtime, convinced they can charm us into believing that they have an easy answer to our woes.

They don’t.

But saying that doesn’t do a whit of good, because they will be back, and chances are a lot of our elected officials – straight-jacketed by the absurd “pledge” they take yet duty-bound to try to deal with contemporary problems and needs – will again fall victim to the piper’s song. After all, what did we hear this time?

Ah, yes. Gambling – and it is gambling, not “gaming” but plain old gambling, the thing that our straight-laced forebears warned us about – will solve all our problems.

We were told that the cash from this one “high-end, highly-regulated” casino would provide local school building aid and restore funding to our financially strapped state higher education programs. We would be able to repair our crumbling roads and red-listed bridges. We could properly fund our social services budget and increase reimbursement to hospitals for uncompensated heath care. The casino would solve our unemployment problems and boost help for the North Country.

Thanks to that casino, we would clean the air and the water and cure acne. And yes, the endlessly increasing list of benefits got just about that silly.

Reality check.

The just-rejected proposal wouldn’t likely have been “high-end” in the way we think of it. In fact, as good reporting by both the Monitor and NHPR showed, Millennium specializes in what you might call glorified slots palaces, modest places aimed not at out-of-state high-rollers but at locals. As such, whatever money the locals dumped at the gambling tables and the slots would be cash not spent in New Hampshire restaurants and other businesses but instead sent off to Millennium’s Nevada headquarters. And this would certainly be true of any similar venture, whether run by Millennium or some other out-of-town gambling company.

That would also mean cash not spent in truly local entertainment venues. Even a modest casino has enough financial clout to drain entertainment dollars that now support such treasured venues as our Capitol Center for the Arts, which simply couldn’t compete with the bargain prices and exclusionary contracts a casino in Salem, subsidized by gambling, could offer on big acts.

That casino would mean all the social ills that come with increased gambling close to home.

And finally, forget the one-casino notion. As Monitor reader Byron Champlin pointed out in a letter to the editor, when our state’s ground-breaking lottery – touted to finance education – began 50 years ago, bettors could buy $3 tickets for drawings twice a year. Today there is an endless assortment of lottery “games” available every day of the year. Lottery officials and employees are on a continuous quest to expand their offerings and thus their revenue. And we still can’t properly finance our schools.

Once one casino is approved, the pressure for more would be relentless – the North Country resorts, a country club in Hudson, the Loudon speedway are only a few of the outfits that are clamoring for their own tickets to instant gambling riches.

Champlin cited a sentiment ascribed to the great American skeptic H.L. Mencken. For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.

And casino gambling is exactly such a solution. Let’s hope we remember that next time.

GWTW and ItsaRepublic: Why can you not read the article and understand what it is saying (and not saying)? This article has nothing to do with income tax, birth control, marijuana or elitism. Commenting this way only shows how extreme you must be on all of those matters that you cannot see what is printed, but only your own "confiscated social beliefs." It is very well written and addresses the point well, if you will only clear your minds enough to read the text that is written. OK, the curing acne comment may have gone a little over the top, but it makes a point: that so many of those in favor of casino gambling saw this as a silver bullet to all of the state's woes -- which are not merely a consequence of the color of the current leadership, you'll learn if you study the facts. I can't help but wonder if you would criticize in the same manner if your real names appeared instead of pseudonyms. Still, I wish you a nice Memorial Day, enjoying this day that we honor all of those who have fought for us to speak so freely.

Where to begin. I'll begin with the comment about using real names. Did not using your real name change how you commented? I say what I want to say. Look, what I am saying is a majority of NH WANTS a casino. Now I dont know how many of those that want a casino want it for the tax revenue (besides the Pols) but I'd bet (lol) it would still be a high number if the casino ended up giving the state $1 million a year. The reality is the people in NH want one. Some like Katy and you dont. Dont go. Seems pretty simple.

Every state that has expanded gambling touts it as the answer to all its fiscal woes. It hasn't happened yet. The entire casino business model is focused on keeping people in the building, not for them to patronize outside restaurants and other businesses.

Dear Ms. Burns: Please look up the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

Huh...thats a newly surfaced argument against a casino. Every dollar a casino takes in is money not spent in truly local entertainment venues. The same would be true of an income tax. Regardless, NH citizens want what they want. They want birth control, pot legalized, no income tax and, casinos.

Touche' GWTW! The truth is that Katy and progressives are not worried about dollars taken away from local entertainment venues, they are worried about dollars taken away from every social agenda. No one who attends the Red River Theater or Capital Center for the Arts would be going to a "gag", casino. They view themselves as higher thinkers and they are pretentious and know what is best for everyone (in their own snobbish minds). Beyond that, we all know that progressives want more money for "programs", they want to spend, spend, spend and they view an income tax as a never ending stream of cash. You are correct, income tax taken from the paychecks of citizens will not be spent on 'truly local entertainment venues', it will, however, fund grants at places of entertainment for the arts, etc. (at least in parts). The issue with the casinos is that the elitists feel that the hoi polloi, in their view the 'ignorant masses' need to 'gamble' on the progressive agenda, an agenda of mediocrity and confiscation based on social beliefs.

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