Editorial: On casinos, don’t fall for the smooth talk

Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014
You’ve got to hand it to Concord Rep. Katherine Rogers, organizer of an impressive show of support for casino gambling this week: More than 100 representatives from the typically gambling-averse New Hampshire House have publicly come out in support of the legislation.

Our advice to the nearly 300 others: Ignore the soothing rhetoric. This bill, improved from last year’s model, remains a terrible idea for New Hampshire.

These days, that smooth casino lingo takes many forms, some new, some familiar. For instance:

∎ “Gaming.” Most people refer to the goings-on in a casino as gambling. But advocates tend to drop a couple letters and call it “gaming.” You can appreciate why. “Gambling” sounds risky and unsavory. “Gaming” sounds like Scrabble or Parcheesi. Bring out the milk and cookies, we’re going gaming!

∎ “A good deal.” It’s hard not to resist gambling puns when talking about casinos, for sure. At Rogers’s press conference this week, Democratic Rep. Jeremy Dobson of Manchester said the new bill “will make sure expanded gambling will be a good deal for the citizens of New Hampshire.”

In fact, just the opposite is true. For casinos to flourish and generate revenue for the state government, the residents of New Hampshire, other states and other countries will have to gamble often, lose often and lose big. Some deal!

∎ “A fair deal.” That’s the name of a new group – the Fair Deal Caucus – of Democratic lawmakers working to gather support for gambling.

Fair? A fancy casino in Salem, the likely outcome of the legislation in question, will no doubt cannibalize the state’s existing businesses. If a casino can offer better entertainment acts for cheaper ticket prices, it’s easy to imagine residents forgoing a night out at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord or the Palace Theatre in Manchester and choosing the casino instead. That inevitably hurts the surrounding restaurants, bars and shops, too.

∎ “A single, high-end, highly regulated” casino. This is the rhetoric used by Gov. Maggie Hassan, an advocate of casino legislation.

But nearly no state has stopped at just one, a phenomenon that’s not difficult to understand. After all, once you put a casino on the southern border and it’s generating revenue for the host town, other communities – each with its own legislative delegation – will likely cry foul.

Why Salem and not The Balsams up in Dixville Notch? Why not the Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods? What about the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon? And what’s the Seacoast? Chopped liver?

Even if parochial fighting doesn’t sway the Legislature at first, financial concerns surely will. Next time there’s an economic downturn or a crisis in education funding or road building or psychiatric care or prison crowding, a new casino will look like an easy solution. Suddenly one high-end casino will be followed by two mid-level casinos or three low-rent casinos or four downright seedy operations. The New Hampshire Advantage!

Casino opponents who protested that last year’s bill didn’t create a strong regulatory structure were right. But that improvement doesn’t change the bigger issues: New Hampshire shouldn’t finance its government by preying on people who lose their shirts at a casino. Residents shouldn’t trust lawmakers to support gambling addiction services – New Hampshire’s track record on helping those addicted to drugs, alcohol and tobacco is abysmal; there’s no reason to believe this would be different. Existing businesses shouldn’t be victimized by the state’s grab for money.

As parents all over New Hampshire tell their kids every day: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.