Capital Comments: Odell Suggests Wait for Gaming Commission Report

By State Senator Bob Odell

You can bet that the State Senate will vote to pass a huge gambling bill (SB 489) that has grown in scale over the more than ten years that Senator Lou D’Allesandro (Manchester) has been pushing his plan.

Senator D’Allesandro and other proponents talk about job creation, new state revenues, private sector investment and money to prop up the horse racing business.  Opponents cite the social costs of casinos, the loss of jobs in the surrounding area and loss of a quality of life built on the lowest crime rate in the country and the strength of our tourism business based on our recreational and scenic amenities.

One problem some see is that we face one bill … a sort of take it all or leave it situation.  I suggest we wait for the Governor’s Commission on Gaming to issue its report on May 25 to see other options.  I serve on the 15 member Commission and it is doing very good work because of its leadership, the integrity and talent of the commission members and the money that has been raised to provide the commission with a research staff, a writer and funds for experts from around the country to travel to New Hampshire to meet with us.

The D’Allesandro bill provides for six casino locations.  It specifies in the bill’s language who will get a license.  There is no competition because four of the locations which are set for Rockingham Park, the former dog tracks in Belmont and Seabrook and a new resort in Hudson.  The other two locations would be in the North Country.

Without competition, the NASCAR track in Loudon will be left out.  Here is a business that drew 400,000 visitors last year but even though the track owners are  interested, they are not designated in the bill.  Should we be determining who gets a license without competition?  Not having competitive bidding for licenses seems very non New Hampshire.

Why six casinos?  Connecticut has two casinos which serve the populous Boston to New York catchment region.  And the talk in Massachusetts is focused on three sites.  If we are going to have casinos and depend upon them for state revenue, then we want them to be successful.  Three are proposed for the same market area in southern New Hampshire and the gaming commission has been told the market cannot support three facilities.  Obviously, others disagree.

The bill authorizes up to 17,000 slot machines in the state.  I am told that the two casinos in Connecticut are the largest in the country yet they have 12,000 slot machines combined.  Maryland with 4 million more people than we have in New Hampshire (5.650 million to 1,320 million) allows for 15,000 slot machines.  Seems like overkill with 17,000 machines for our state’s small population.

Interestingly, in Maryland, the plan was to have slot parlors at race tracks.  The race tracks did not bid so now there is the likelihood of having a slots shop at Arundel Mills, a major shopping center.

The Gaming Commission has heard over and over from outside independent experts that the first step should be to set up a regulatory operation.  With a gaming control board possibly modeled on the success of the New Jersey board, the state could evaluate individual proposals including how much they would be taxed and then determine who gets a license.

With most of the state revenue being projected from a facility on the border with Massachusetts, could we start with one facility.  The operation could be up and running quickly and a determination could be made as to whether New Hampshire would benefit from additional casinos.

The bill will easily go through the Senate.  The bill’s proponents face a greater challenge in the House and the uncertainty of a veto by Governor Lynch should it pass that body.  Governor Lynch has been consistent in his concern about the impact of expanded gambling on our quality of life and the nature of the gambling industry to keep expanding once in operation.

Plus, I sense the Governor would like see what his gaming commission recommends.  After all, the commission report will be on his desk in a little over 60 days.

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Governor Lynch has made his choice for the newest board member of the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority.  It is Claremont City Manager Guy Santagate.    The BFA, created in 1992, has the goal of increasing employment and fostering economic development by lending money to manufacturers, small and medium- sized businesses, health providers, and non-profit educational and cultural organizations.  With Guy’s finance, municipal management and economic development experience, the Governor has chosen a man with the right resume.  Congratulations to Guy Santagate.

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I missed St. Joseph’s Sports Night last year so I was especially pleased to be there for the 54th annual dinner last week in Claremont.  Marty Brown, the athletics director at Kearsarge Regional High School since 1984, was the speaker.  What a wonderful choice as he wove stories about Stevens High School athletes and coaches and their victories and defeats over the years.  His talk was a great reminder of the positive impact quality athletic programs can have on our communities.  The stories add a richness to the history of a city like Claremont. Congratulations, too, to the 2010 student athlete honorees Elizabeth Guimond, Cody Nichols, Erica Ferland and Dale Girard.

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