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Gambling in the Granite State

Expert: Casinos are public policy question, not a budget fix

  • Andy Leitz, the Chair of Governor Lynch's  Commission on Expanded Gambling presents to the House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Andy Leitz, the Chair of Governor Lynch's Commission on Expanded Gambling presents to the House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Representatives Willian Hatch of Gorham (left) and Robert Walsh of Manchester (center) of the House Finance Committee while they along with the House Ways and Means Committee hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Representatives Willian Hatch of Gorham (left) and Robert Walsh of Manchester (center) of the House Finance Committee while they along with the House Ways and Means Committee hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • The House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Commities hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    The House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Commities hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Andy Leitz, the Chair of Governor Lynch's  Commission on Expanded Gambling presents to the House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Representatives Willian Hatch of Gorham (left) and Robert Walsh of Manchester (center) of the House Finance Committee while they along with the House Ways and Means Committee hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • The House Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Commities hear expert testimony about bringing a casino to New Hampshire; Wednesday, April 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

The Rye businessman who led a recent state study of expanded gambling told lawmakers yesterday the state will become dependent on casino revenue and be unable to limit the number of casinos to one if it expands gambling.

“Proliferation will happen,” said Andrew Lietz, tapped by former governor John Lynch to head the 2010 study. “A real question we were asked by the previous governor and Legislature was, ‘How can New Hampshire control proliferation?’ We did not have a solution.”

Lietz was one of a handful of experts to address the two House committees working on a state Senate bill that would legalize a single casino in exchange for an $80 million license fee and an ongoing take of the casino’s slot machine and table game revenue.

Another was Clyde Barrow, the director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth who has analyzed casino proposals in several states. Among other things, Barrow said 80 percent of casino workers have high school diplomas or less and that casinos hire 15 percent to 30 percent of their employees off public assistance programs.

Barrow said the state’s greatest power over a casino is in the regulations and application requirements it writes before licensing one. He cited Massachusetts, which is in the process of awarding three casino licenses. It requires the winning bidders to partner with local entertainment venues by using their venues to host concerts.

“That’s becoming more common,” Barrow said.

The New Hampshire bill does not contain that requirement, and it would create rules and regulations in conjunction with licensing a casino.

The bill passed the Senate, 16-8, and has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has sold it as a way to pay for needed services and create jobs. It faces tougher scrutiny in the House, which has defeated prior efforts to expand gambling.

Yesterday, Lietz urged the committee approach its work with a long view. “This should not be a discussion about a budget,” Lietz said, “but a discussion about public policy over the long term and what that policy means to us as citizens and to our state.”

The joint House committee heard from nearly 70 residents, groups and lobbyists during a six-hour public hearing Tuesday. Yesterday, members spent their days with experts.

Lucy Hodder, the governor’s legal counsel, and Charles McIntyre, the executive director of the state Lottery Commission, walked committee members through the bill yesterday, section by section. And in addition to Lietz and Barrow, the committee met with Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, which did an economic analysis of the Senate bill.

Lietz, who described himself as “agnostic” on expanding gambling, said the 2010 report issued by the study commission he led came to several conclusions he hopes lawmakers will consider.

In addition to proliferation, the commission concluded that the state would see an increase in revenue from a casino but also an increase in social costs of gambling-related crime and problem gambling.

Lietz predicted a casino would take some business from other entertainment venues. He wasn’t convinced a $425 million casino here, which is the minimum investment required, would compete well with the $1 billion casinos being pitched in greater Boston. Lietz also warned the committee that people on both sides of the debate will overstate the pros and cons of casino gambling.

Barrow was asked whether the state could require a casino developer to hire from New Hampshire. Barrow said it could not legally require it, but it could emphasize that expectation in the application process.

Barrow disputed Lietz’s prediction that a casino would negatively affect local businesses. He said casinos tend to hire their employees off public assistance, giving those people money to spend locally that they did not have before.

The committees will now begin digging into the bill in earnest.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the joint committees, has divvied up the work between three subcommittees: Rep. David Huot, a Laconia Democrat, will lead a review of casino regulations and the bidding process for a license; Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican, will head up a study of casino revenue; and Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, a Stratham Democrat, will lead a look at a casino’s social costs, potential to create jobs and its affect on local communities.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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