Capital Beat: 50 years later, state lottery fight echoes in N.H. casino debate

Last modified: 5/23/2013 8:02:02 AM
Critics said it would promote immorality and lead to increased crime and corruption. Supporters called it a personal choice and said it would bring in much-needed revenue for the state government.

If the arguments sound familiar, they should. On Wednesday, when the House takes up a bill that would allow a single casino in New Hampshire, the debate will likely echo the fight 50 years ago over a state lottery.

Of course, 1963 isn’t 2013. But some of the parallels are uncanny.

Like casino gambling today, allowing what was then called a “sweepstakes” was a biennial issue for the Legislature. Championed by Rep. Larry Pickett, a Keene Democrat, such a lottery would sell tickets at state liquor stores and was based on biannual horse races held initially at Rockingham Park in Salem.

It passed the Legislature in 1955, only to be vetoed by then-governor Lane Dwinell. It then passed the House three more times, only to die in the Senate.

(Flash forward a half-century, and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, has spent 15 years introducing bills to expand legal gambling in the state. A number have passed the Senate, only to die each time in the House. And Rockingham Park is the likely site for a casino.)

In 1963, the time seemed ripe. Newly minted Democratic Gov. John W. King had voted for the sweepstakes while serving in the House and, unlike his predecessors, refused say he’d veto such a bill as governor.

(Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who took office this year, similarly voted for casino gambling while serving in the Senate. Unlike her predecessor, John Lynch, she’s explicitly promised to sign a bill allowing one casino.)

On March 13, 1963, after 2½ hours of heated debate, the House passed a sweepstakes bill, 196-166. It then went to the Senate, where a tougher battle was expected. Senate President Philip Dunlap, a Hopkinton Republican, decided to send the bill to a special joint committee, a combination of the Finance and Ways and Means panels, for a close look.

“If this bill is to have the attention due it, I believe this is a way to work with dispatch – to scrutinize the bill, et cetera,” Dunlap said.

(After the Senate passed the casino bill this year by a 16-8 margin, it went to the House. Speaker Terie Norelli sent it to a joint panel of the House Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee for a detailed review. “The people of New Hampshire deserve that level of consideration for a decision that could impact our state for decades to come,” said the Portsmouth Democrat.)

When the sweepstakes bill reached the Senate floor on April 16, 1963, the fight was fierce. Supporters argued

it would bring in revenue and help clean up the illegal gambling already under way in the state.

“If you give a man an honest, above-ground place he will bet there; if you don’t, he will creep into the dungeons of the underworld and do it there,” said Sen. Nathan Battles, a Kingston Republican.

Opponents said expanded gambling wasn’t the right way to solve the state’s revenue woes.

“The Good Book says that, as we sow, so shall we reap. If more and more gambling is to be the official state policy, then we shall reap increased crime and corruption and increase social unrest in New Hampshire,” said Sen. Paul Karkavelas, a Dover Republican.

In the end, the Senate passed the bill by the slimmest possible margin, 13-11. Two days later the House concurred with changes made by the Senate – despite a last-minute attempt to delay the bill by then-Rep. Walter Peterson, a Peterborough Republican and future governor.

On April 30, King signed the bill into law, creating the nation’s first modern lottery. Minutes later, he spoke to a joint session of the House and Senate – plus “a small army of news media crews from New York and other metropolitan areas” who “jammed all available space in Representatives Hall, to speed the lottery enactment through the nation and around the world,” reported that day’s Monitor.

King said he respected those who objected to the lottery on moral grounds, though he disagreed with them. He said the “fear of undesirable elements invading our state” was overblown. The revenue would help the state avoid new taxes, he said. And he said that if the people wanted a lottery, they should be able to have one.

“Our local communities are faced with constantly increasing demands for school facilities at a time when our people are already carrying a cross of taxation unequalled in American history. They cry out for relief – and if they demonstrate an obvious desire to try this voluntary method of raising new revenues, then I conceive it our duty to try to execute their wishes,” King said.

King was condemned and celebrated for his decision. His office said initial responses ran 20-to-1 in support. But John Wesley Lord, a civil rights activist and the nation’s top Methodist bishop, sent King a telegram calling April 30 “Black Tuesday for our nation” and saying he hung his “head in shame that our beloved New Hampshire should have led the way down the road of irresponsible action.”

Fifty years later, a lottery exists in almost every state. In New Hampshire, it has generated more than $1.5 billion for public education since it got under way in 1964, according to the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, and has been expanded over the years to include scratch tickets and multi-state drawings like Powerball and Mega Millions.

Despite the obvious similarities, there are a few big differences between this year’s casino debate and the fight in 1963 over a lottery.

Fifty years ago, New Hampshire was the first state to introduce a lottery, and so lawmakers waded through questions about possible collisions with federal law. Casinos, by contrast, are up and running in a number of other states today.

King’s role in 1963 was very different than Hassan’s this year. King took a hands-off approach as the sweepstakes bill passed through the Legislature. Hassan, on the other hand, has been one of the loudest advocates for a casino.

And today, casino opponents say there is far more research available about the social effects and psychology of gambling.

A slots machine is far more malignant than a lottery ticket, said Lew Feldstein, the former president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and a leader of Casino Free New Hampshire.

“The lottery is relatively benign in what impact it has on the people that participate,” Feldstein said. Video slots, on the other hand, “are designed to drain you of any resistance, to make people play more. That’s why it’s a multiplier; it has so much more impact in making people addicted or problem gamblers.”

We’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see if the House of 2013 follows the Senate of 1963 and approves a major expansion of legal gambling in New Hampshire.

Casino tea leaves

Wednesday’s House debate on the casino bill could be the most closely watched vote of the year. The outcome will define the budget negotiations to come, and possibly much else.

Until then, there’s a lot of ways to parse in the casino supercommittee’s 23-22 vote last week to recommend the House kill the bill.

As usual, gambling split both parties. Democrats voted 13-12 to support the bill, while Republicans voted 11-9 against it.

The members of the House Ways and Means Committee split 10-10, while the members of the House Finance Committee went 13-11. (The 22nd vote for the bill came from Rep. Anne Priestley of Salem, who swapped in for fellow Republican Rep. Ken Weyler of Kingston, a member of the Finance Committee who was absent.)

Senior lawmakers from both parties went against the bill: Concord Democrat Mary Jane Wallner, Lebanon Democrat Susan Almy, Weare Republican Neal Kurk, Plaistow Republican Norm Major and Hooksett Republican David Hess.

On the other hand, all four of the supercommittee’s first-term representatives supported the bill: Jaffrey Democrat Richard Ames, Warner Democrat David Karrick, Wilmot Democrat Thomas Schamberg and Jaffrey Democrat Harry Young.

Does the close vote in committee portend a close vote on the floor? No one seems sure.

“I really don’t know what it means,” Ames said.

Gas tax on tap

The action isn’t all in the House this week. The Senate will meet Thursday, and its agenda includes the Democratic-led House’s bill to raise the gas tax by 12 cents.

Despite the Senate’s 13-11 GOP majority, the Ways and Means Committee’s recommendation was to re-refer the bill back to committee – not to kill it outright.

Derry Republican Sen. Jim Rausch sided with the panel’s two Democrats, D’Allesandro and Andrew Hosmer of Laconia, on the vote last week. Republican Sens. Bob Odell of Lempster and Chuck Morse of Salem were on the other side.

So, what’s Rausch thinking?

“As a veterinarian, I take X-rays and blood tests before making a diagnosis,” he said after the vote. “I’m waiting for the results.”

Alrighty then.

Lots to do

The gas tax isn’t the only hot topic on the Senate’s agenda this week.

Among other things, Thursday’s session will include votes on re-establishing a state minimum wage, extending last call at bars to 2 a.m., legalizing medical marijuana, repealing the “stand your ground” self-defense law, rolling back last year’s laws on voter ID and voter registration forms, and raising the tobacco tax.

It could be a long day.

Trading places

In a sense, Joe Foster and Mike Delaney just swapped jobs.

Foster, a former state senator and longtime bankruptcy lawyer at the firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, was sworn in last week as the new attorney general.

He replaced Delaney, who’s taken a new job at – you guessed it – the McLane Law Firm. Delaney will be a director in the firm’s litigation practice group, starting later this month.

Foster has said he’ll recuse himself for a time from any cases involving lawyers from the McLane firm, so the attorneys general won’t cross paths in court anytime soon.

Hardly knew thee

The top job at the Department of Revenue Administration has been vacant for a while, a fact that was highlighted last week when Hassan nominated John Beardmore for the post.

It turns out, Commissioner Kevin Clougherty’s term ended way back in September. But he stuck around for a while longer, leaving with little fanfare at the end of February.

If you didn’t notice he was gone, you’re not alone. As recently as this month, the New Hampshire Business Review and the New Hampshire Union Leader were reporting Clougherty couldn’t be reached for comment in stories on the DRA.

News of record

∎ Dover native Garrett Arwa has been named executive director of the Michigan Democratic Party.

∎ A new housing development in North Woodstock for low-income seniors, the Councilor Ray Burton Commons, will be dedicated June 4.

∎ The Women’s Fund of New Hampshire will hold its annual meeting tomorrow, 4 p.m., at O Steaks & Seafood in Concord.

∎ Also tomorrow: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will headline the state Republican Party’s Liberty Dinner, 6 p.m. at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

∎ The New Hampshire Primary is turning 100. Birthday cake will be served at the State House on Tuesday, 100 years to the day after the bill establishing the presidential primary was signed into law.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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