Portsmouth - The on-going debate over casino gambling has reached a boil in recent weeks and it has now started to sizzle. This morning NH State Senator Lou D'Allesandro (D) and former state Senator Jim Rubens (R), of the Granite State Coelition Against Expanded Gambling, debated the pro's and con's of casino gambling before a crowd of about 65 people. The debate was sponsored by the Government Affairs Committee of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and it was held at the Seacoast Media Group headquarters at Pease Tradeport.
Jim Rubens argued passionately against allowing a casino to be built in the state, stating fact after fact related to the possibility of increased crime, families being torn apart, casino owners taking New Hampshire money and sending it to Las Vegas, and increased suicides “which is what these things do”.
Senator D'Allesandro stated his case based on his more than 15 years of working on casino bill after bill with each bill being more polished and in-tune with state wants and needs. His current bill, SB152, is structured to allow bids to be received for one casino with 5000 slot machines and 150 table games. Highlights of the bill include:
A $500,000 non refundable application fee
A $100,000 Attorney General Fee for verifying backgrounds
An $80,000,000 license fee if approved
Requirement that a casino be built with capital investment of at least $425,000,000
25% of net machine income as tax to the state
3% of net machine income as tax for the local community
14% of daily table game gross income to the education trust fund
1% of net machine income as tax for surrounding communities
D'Allesandro estimated the bill would infuse a one-shot $80 million into the state budget in the 2014-2015 time frame and an on-going state tax revenue of many million per year but based on casino revenues. Local community tax revenue was estimated at about $14 million a year. In addition, the project would create about 2000 temporary construction jobs and more than 1000 full time jobs after completion.
Rubens countered that the casino industry has been seeing decreasing revenue since 2007 but it was unclear in his presentation if that decrease was due to the recession in general since the graph seemed to follow home values during the same time period. He also claimed the jobs that would be created would be near minimum wage jobs and the casino would avoid offering health care benefits.
Questions from the audience seemed to be mostly statements from conservatives who took the Rubens position that any casino would be a giant step for New Hampshire toward decimating its quality of life.
Other passionate arguments against the casino proposal came from an owner of a local “charity casino” related to his belief that a large casino would put his charitable casino out of business. “Charity casinos” have been allowed in New Hampshire since 2005 and about 35% of their revenue have to go to local charities.
Many people do not realize that these “charity casinos” have already been operating in the state for over 7 years with little or no impact on crime or anything else.
Governor Hassan presented her budget on February 14 with an estimated $80 million from the casino licensing fee included as revenue along with other increased taxes or fees.
However, the state House of Representatives has removed that $80 million plus another several million from increased cigarette tax and other proposed increases for a reduction of $125 million in revenue. That leaves the House budget with a serious shortfall in revenue and no option but to either cut spending further or re-instate the casino fee in its revenue.
The state Senate has passed the casino bill several times in the past but it always met opposition from the House and the governor. This time, the governor is a strong proponent and the House is facing its most serious challenge to opposition it has ever faced.