Sen. Lou D’Allesandro: State’s residents want casino gambling

For the Monitor
Sunday, April 16, 2017

As an elected official, my No. 1 priority is to represent my constituents’ voices in what I do, and to work diligently to ensure that their needs are translated into the appropriate legislation.

But as a New Hampshirite, I also believe it is my duty to represent the interests of New Hampshire as a whole; that is what I have done for almost 40 years and will continue to do going forward.

Historically, New Hampshire citizens have been in favor of gambling in the state. In 2014, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center surveyed 519 citizens and found a margin of 58-31 percent for those who were in favor of legalizing casino gambling in the state. A 2017 survey of 292 Granite Staters conducted by Citizens Count, Live Free or Die Alliance, showed that 72 percent of these individuals were in favor of gambling in the state. In addition, it appears that some towns view gambling even more favorably, such as Salem, whose residents favor gambling 43 to 1 based off of a Facebook poll as reported by NPR. Twenty percent of all New Hampshire’s adults have gone to a casino in the past year.

UMass Dartmouth published in 2013 “Bring it on Home: An Overview of Gaming Behavior in New England.” The publication compares five New England states’ casino gambling related activities: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

It found statistical profiles of casino patrons in various entities. “Among the five states surveyed, 51 percent of the visitors to Hollywood Casino were Maine residents (83,912 visitors), followed by New Hampshire (74,740 visitors), and Connecticut (5,209 visitors).”

The publication’s findings clearly show that New Hampshire residents are leaving our state to gamble, often right next door.

We have to use caution when trying to paint a profile of what segment of New Hampshire’s population will be most apt to take advantage of casinos in the state. We can look at demographic breakdowns from other states, as well as general statistics to try and hypothesize what this population may look like, but the truth is this is all just speculation.

Therefore, I will not pretend to make claims that I cannot concretely back up. The critics of this bill claim that it will be the state’s retired population that will frequent casinos the most. The Levenson Institute conducted an age profile survey of Atlantic City visitors and New Jersey residents. What they found was the average respondent of both visitors and residents was 52 years old. The average visitor ranged from age 50-64. The average New Jersey resident was 30-49 years old, with ages 65 or older making up just 14 percent of respondents.

These statistics suggest that retired-aged populations are more populous when visiting out-of-state casinos than when visiting their own state’s casinos. Thus, if there are casinos in New Hampshire, and New Hampshire was to follow New Jersey’s trend, the elderly segment of our state’s population would not make up the largest group of casino patrons.

Establishing casino gambling in New Hampshire is much simpler than the statistics let on – we have, to some extent, casinos already operating within the state. Look at the Keene Casino, and the many others of its kind.

If people are willing enough to establish such entities, despite our current laws, does that not reflect the desire to have such facilities in our state?

If people did not want casino gambling within our state then we would see these facilities failing. But they are doing quite the opposite despite our current laws.

Senate Bill 242 will allow companies to compete against one another, to create the kinds of facilities our public so clearly demands. It will create additional revenue that will allow the state to have more to operate with and give back.

The Lottery Commission estimates a total of $194,337,100 in tax revenue under this bill in FY 2021, the assumed first full year of operation for each location.

Critics of SB 242 narrowly focus on what they foresee as potential consequences if the bill is adopted. However, I challenge critics to entertain the question of what will be the consequences if we do not pass SB 242.

We will continue to sit on the sidelines while we watch neighboring states indulge in the benefits of casinos. We will watch our citizens travel to other states to do an activity they could be doing at home. We will watch states with casinos use our citizens’ money to better improve their state when we could be improving our own.

This bill is 20 years in the making. And as I have said, and will remain saying, the time is now.

There is going to come a point when we will have completely lost the opportunity to seek the benefits of casino gambling in our state. Let’s not come to that point, because if we do, we will find ourselves set back from our neighboring states and unable to ever catch up.

Let’s listen to what New Hampshire citizens want and demand by supporting the passage of SB 242.

(Sen. Lou D’Allesandro lives in Manchester.)