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Column: Casino won’t solve budget problems

I will vote against SB152 when it comes to the floor of the House because it is not good for the communities I represent — New Ipswich, Temple and Sharon — or for those served by the Ledger Transcript or for the State of New Hampshire.

The real reason we are facing this question now lies with the need to immediately increase state revenues to satisfy our lust to spend more money in the new budget. At the same time there is a strong gambling lobby urging us to legalize gambling in New Hampshire. The key argument here is that Massachusetts is going to open three casinos, so we must beat them to it with one on the border. Building a casino in the Salem area is not going to end our budget funding problems. Less spending might be the first realistic step.

The governor’s use of $80 million in gambling revenue to balance the budget was delusional. The anticipated revenue was to be from an application fee from the winning bidders for a single large casino. From a budget planning perspective, this makes no sense at all. Even if SB152 is approved, it will take far to long to amass the $80 million in revenue for it to be relevant.

At the heart of the issue is what effects would gambling have on New Hampshire and for us here in the Contoocook Valley area. A single facility located in Salem might not have a great amount of immediate effect but it will compete with local restaurants and other places where we spend some of our discretionary income, and as one moves closer to the casino the impact becomes greater. The casinos are not high wage payers and they will most likely bring in workers that will need some social services, assuming a large facility. The money taken in by the casinos will not flow through the local and regional economy as it would from some other forms of entertainment. Another part of SB152 looks at expanding gambling to other locations and that could have a profound effect on us.

Many of the states that have gambling facilities have not recently fared very well. Did gambling save Atlantic City, or has Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun kept Connecticut from being one of the highest cost states for taxes raised per person? Some of these casinos are also in financial trouble at the present time. I am not against gambling or wagering on sport events as in office pools or for charity events, but when you create a gambling “factory” it can cause people to be more likely to become addicted, which leads to many social problems. For a well written explanation about the impact of large scale gambling visit the web site www.noslots.com. This is a New Hampshire web site that has some excellent comments and I recommend it.

New Hampshire’s market for a casino is small compared to other states and if three are built in Massachusetts how many people will want to drive to New Hampshire to do what they can do at home? We have many good reasons for people and families to come here without the need to emulate Reno or Atlantic City. Fortunately the gambling issue crosses party lines and I hope that the blurring of political ideology for this issue will help the House come together in a bipartisan vote to kill SB152, at least for now.

Rep. James Coffey, a Republican from New Ipswich, represents Hillsborough District 25.

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