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Maggie's gamble: Unexpected opposition

The odds got longer last week on Gov. Maggie Hassan's gamble that the Legislature would pass her casino gambling bill simply because her budget already counts on spending that money.

One roadblock came from a predictable, if questionable, anti-gambling source. The other, however, came from the House Finance Committee chairman.

Democrat Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord really poured cold water on Hassan's gambit.

"The issue for us is that the House has not had a vote on a gambling bill, so to assume revenue at this point is really not the position of the House, either for or against,'' Wallner told our senior political reporter, John DiStaso.

"To expect revenue of $80 million would really be a mistake, especially if it didn't show up later,'' she said, explaining that she will ask her committee to find a like figure in possible budget cuts.

Perhaps being caught off guard by that reality check is why the governor's response was so weak to a Center for Public Policies Studies report that claimed the social costs of gambling would be higher than the tax revenues it would bring in, even at a whopping 30 percent tax rate on slot machine revenues.

State Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem, the gambling bill's sponsor, questioned the report's validity, noting it has said the same thing before. He thinks it overestimates social costs and underestimates revenue.

That was a lot stronger retort than Hassan's. Rather than dispute the social-cost theory, she practically embraced it, saying that New Hampshire residents will go to Massachusetts to gamble and bring their social problems back home, so we might as well have the gambling, and the social problems, closer to home.

That's the spirit, governor. If people are going to jump off bridges, they ought to be jumping off bridges right here at home.

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