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Anti-Gambling Group Sprouts up to Protest Granite State Senate Bill to Legalize Casino

Concord — The new group Casino Free NH launched an effort yesterday against a Senate-passed bill that would legalize a single casino in New Hampshire.

Lew Feldstein, who was president of the New Hampshire Charitable Association for 24 years, told reporters at a Statehouse news conference the money that gambling supporters promise will be raised is not worth the damage gambling will do to families and the state.

“This is a broad coalition of people who love New Hampshire and are appalled at the damage a casino would do to the families of New Hampshire,” said Feldstein.

Once legalized, video slots will spread across the state, he predicted.

“Supporters of gambling court us with a siren song about the money gambling will raise to meet unmet needs. We ask you: Does it make sense to meet unmet needs by creating more unmet needs?” Feldstein said.

Gov. Maggie Hassan supports the Senate bill that would allow 5,000 video slots and 150 table games. She included $80 million from licensing the casino in her budget. Critics are doubtful the law could be implemented quickly enough for the money to be received for the two-year budget starting July 1. It also would take time to build the casino before profits would flow to the state. But supporters are stressing the urgency to get something in place ahead of Massachusetts, which has legalized three casinos and a video slots parlor.

Even if New Hampshire does allow a casino to be built, a recent study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies estimates the state would, at best, break even if a casino is opened at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts, as planned. Hassan said the study acknowledged a casino would generate the $80 million licensing fees to pay for the spending in her proposed budget. She has also said if New Hampshire doesn’t build a casino it will still pay for the social costs of expanded gambling when Massachusetts builds its casinos.

State Rep. Marjorie Smith, a former House Finance Committee chairwoman, called the proposed gambling money “monopoly money.” She said gambling supporters act like the revenue from the proposed casino would be directed to specific needs.

But Smith told reporters all the state’s money is taken into account when budget committees make funding decisions. She noted that the budget the House passed last week funds just about everything Hassan requested but without counting on gambling revenues. That shows that the gambling money isn’t needed, she said.

Alex Ray, founder of the Common Man family of restaurants, said the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association’s board voted last week to oppose a casino.

“Why sell out our huge New Hampshire heritage brand for short-term gain?” he said.

A House hearing on the bill is set for Tuesday. The deadline for the House to act is June 6, but Senate Republican leaders say they won’t consider building their version of the budget with gambling revenues if the House does not pass it before then. Already on record as opposing tax increases, that could mean cuts to the House’s proposed spending levels.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, the casino bill’s prime sponsor, said the same arguments being voiced against his bill were voiced 50 years ago when New Hampshire legalized the lottery.

“The key issue is: do you want a tax or a non-tax source of revenue,” said D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

Smith, D-Durham, said New Hampshire has managed over the years by taking a little revenue from a variety of sources to pay for state spending — something D’Allesandro rejected as inadequate.

“A little bit from here; a little bit from there doesn’t work,” he said.

Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said without the license fee money “there will be significant cuts to education and health care services.

“It is unclear how casino opponents suggest funding these priorities and other without moving forward with a plan for one high-end casino,” he said.

Rich Killion, spokesman for pro-gambling FixItNowNH, and Joe Casey, president of the New Hampshire Building and Construction Trades Council, called the new group’s rhetoric nothing new.

“What we saw today is a bunch of nothing; no plan to fund services, no plan to restore funding for higher education, no plan to help create jobs,” said Casey.