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Column: The High Price of Not Expanding N.H. Gaming

Nashua

With apologies to John Donne, I would argue that no state is an island, entire of itself. Opponents of expanded gaming want us to believe that New Hampshire is an island, an oasis that is free from gambling. Nothing could be further from reality.

Those opponents refuse to recognize that gambling already exists in New Hampshire on a massive scale. The state has long allowed lottery sales, and was the first state to do so in 1962. Lucky Seven tabs are sold in social clubs all over the state. “Charitable gaming” including bingo, poker, roulette, blackjack and craps, is prevalent in small and large venues, including church halls. There is off-site greyhound and horse wagering in Seabrook and at Rockingham Park in Salem, where people have been gambling since 1906. And gambling is widely available these days on the Internet. Gambling opponents refuse to recognize that it exists in 40 other states, including next door in Maine and in nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Most importantly, casino gambling is coming to Massachusetts, and that will change everything.

There is no wall between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. When the casinos are built there, over one-half of New Hampshire’s population will be within a 90-minute ride of them. While Massachusetts plans its casinos, we need to look at what impact they will have on New Hampshire and our state budget.

If the Legislature doesn’t approve expanded gaming — the Senate passed a bill allowing one casino in the southern part of the state, and the full House is expected to take up the proposal in the coming week — the fiscal consequences for the state will be stark. For starters, state revenue will drop $24 million annually, just from reduced rooms and meals tax revenue and lottery sales. That money will be spent in Massachusetts rather than here. Also lost will be an estimated $130 million annually, the Lottery Commission’s revenue projection of what the casino will generate at full capacity. Together, that’s more than $150 million lost annually if the casino proposal is rejected.

If New Hampshire does nothing, it is estimated that residents will spend about $100 million on gambling a year in Massachusetts. Because the commonwealth has a 25 percent tax rate, our residents will contribute $25 million a year to its budget, not to our own.

Moreover, Massachusetts casinos will seriously hurt current charitable gaming revenue. The casino bill passed by the Senate, SB 152, provides for “charitable gaming” at the proposed casino and contains a provision that would hold state charities harmless based on the gaming revenue each received in 2012. The casino would be required to make up whatever revenue they lose. If we do nothing, all gambling revenue flows to Massachusetts, and state charities will suffer.

What about gambling’s social ills? The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy projects that the state will face almost the same social impact — about 75 percent of what would happen if New Hampshire builds its own facility — if a casino is rejected because of the proximity of the Bay State casinos. This bill earmarks 1 percent of the revenue (about $9 million annually) for treatment of gambling addiction, which of course already exists in our state. Currently, gambling addiction treatment is not funded.

Because there is no wall between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, doing nothing means that, instead of constructing a casino, New Hampshire will essentially erect a giant funnel that will divert millions into Massachusetts’ coffers. Without additional state revenue, the Legislature’s only alternative will be to continue to cut, or maintain at inadequate levels, a host of human services and education programs.

A recent poll indicated that 63 percent of residents favor expanded gaming as a way to create thousands of jobs and raise additional revenue. A majority of people apparently understand what they can only hope that a majority of legislators will: Given the realities of gambling nationally, regionally and in our own state, the budgetary and social impacts of doing nothing would be far worse than the alternative.

David B. Campbell, a Democrat, represents Nashua in the New Hampshire House.