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Empty promises for slot casino tax revenue, jobs

Many legislators leaning towards allowing slot casino gambling in New Hampshire do not like the social costs and risks it will bring. But they do believe in the promises made to them that gambling will provide stable tax revenue and good-paying jobs for New Hampshire residents.

The problem here is these promises are just talk. Nowhere in the actual bill (HB 1633) being pushed by gambling interests is there anything in writing backing up these promises. There are absolutely no written guarantees for tax revenues and jobs in HB 1633. None. Nada. Zip.

To be specific, there is absolutely nothing in writing in all 99 pages of HB 1633 that requires even minimum levels of the tax revenue promised, or good pay and benefit levels for jobs, or even that most jobs will not go to Massachusetts workers. And in spite of the promises legislators hear over and over again, there is no answer to “show me the money” and “show me the jobs.”

As every legislator knows, if promises are not in writing in a bill, they are not real. Legislators can’t count on them or promise them. And passing HB 1633 based on these empty promises is not only unwise and irresponsible — it will be a disaster for our state.

The revenue promise that legislators hear all the time is a minimum of $104.6 million per year for the first year (increasing to $143 million in the 10th year) from the slots and table games at a 35 percent slots and 18 percent tables tax rate. In fact, the gambling lobbyists and their supporters often promise more because they say $104.6 million is a low estimate. But unless these promises are put in writing in HB 1633, they mean nothing — and it would certainly be foolhardy for the state to include this empty promise of $104.6 million in its budget.

New Hampshire deserves better. Lawmakers need to be sure those making the promises “put their money where their mouth is.” And if the gambling interests are so confident that New Hampshire will get at least this $104 million per year, why wouldn’t they jump at the chance of putting this requirement in HB 1633 and put these doubts and fears to rest?

Further, without written requirements for minimum revenue in this bill, we are in danger of falling into the same trap experienced by other states. This is where overly optimistic promises of high, stable, and growing tax revenue are made before the vote. But then — after the vote — they fail to materialize. We need to learn from the costly mistakes of others. To protect us — the citizens of New Hampshire — our legislators must put producing $104.6 million as a non-negotiable condition for the gambling operator to keep its lucrative monopoly franchise.

Our legislators also hear over and over again similar promises about all the good-paying jobs that a slot casino will provide to our state’s residents. Again, HB 1633 provides absolutely nothing in writing that requires the casino operator to pay a minimum livable wage. The same is true of setting minimum requirements for health, pension, vacation, and sick-time benefits. There is nothing in HB 1633 to nail these promises down. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

There is at least a provision in HB 1633 suggesting that the casino gambling operator make some attempts to hire workers who live in New Hampshire. However yet again, HB 1633 contains nothing in writing that even sets a goal for the proportion of workers who will be New Hampshire residents, let alone any penalties for missing it.

And without more teeth in HB 1633, most likely way over half of the casino workers will be from Massachusetts, not from New Hampshire. This is because a slot casino must be located near the Massachusetts border for maximum profits. This means the largest pool of casino workers will be from the Lawrence, Mass., labor market.

Do we really want to bring a slot casino to New Hampshire, with all its costs and potential problems, to create jobs primarily for Massachusetts’ workers? This is not in the New Hampshire tradition.

There is no question our legislators have the right, as well as the clear responsibility, to put these promises in writing. A slot casino allowed to run 5,000 slots 24 hours a day and 365 days a year cannot exist without the legislature overturning the 200-year old law that prohibits it. Our legislators must make sure that in return for giving away all this — plus New Hampshire incurring all the new costs and other job and revenue losses that go along with it — this bill must include ironclad requirements.

To do anything less is clearly irresponsible and a reason in itself to kill HB 1633.

Gordon Allen of Antrim is an economist with degrees from Williams College and Syracuse University, specializing in public finance. He served in the N.H. House for three terms on the Finance Committee. He is past executive director of the Granite State Association of Nonprofits, Monadnock Worksource, and the N.H. Council on Developmental Disabilities. Now retired, he is currently co-chair of the Coalition for Open Democracy and chair of WNHN-FM and the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.

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