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March 27. 2012 10:02PM

Police association gets behind NH casinos

CONCORD — For the first time, the New Hampshire Police Association has voted to support expanded gambling in the state, an issue before the House this week.

The association is the second law enforcement group to back House Bill 593, which would allow four casinos with a total of 14,000 slot machines and 420 table games. Last month the New Hampshire Troopers Association voted to support the bill.

“I believe the impact of having casino gambling in our neighboring states, especially Massachusetts and Maine, played a big part in reaching this decision,” said Jeff Stiegler, president of the NHPA. “The feelings of the association is casino gambling can be a viable non-tax revenue source for the state with proper regulatory oversight.”

In the past, the law enforcement community expressed concerns that expanded gambling would increase crime. But Stiegler said that has not been the experience of police the association contacted in states that have casinos, including Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Under HB 593, the Lottery Commission would regulate New Hampshire casinos — from license selection to who can work in the facilities — while maintaining a centralized computer system for all electronic slot machines.

“We reached the point of facing reality, seeing reports that if New Hampshire doesn't act, Massachusetts casinos will siphon off $100 million per biennium in rooms and meals tax revenues and lottery sales that New Hampshire currently receives, not to mention the new money that would be lost,” Stiegler said.

As state revenues go down, he said, vital services such as law enforcement will be cut, in turn downshifting costs to local property taxpayers.

“We are convinced a lot of states are doing it right, with strong enforcement oversight,” Stiegler said. “Serious crime has not occurred. There is no reason New Hampshire can't do it right.”

Expanded gambling opponents contend serious crime will increase with expanded gambling.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and every New Hampshire attorney general for the past 35 years have opposed legalizing casinos because they increase serious crime, said Jim Rubens, chairman of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.

He cited a New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission report that found one casino in Salem or Hudson would cause an additional 1,200 serious crimes each year.

Under HB 593, there would be two large casinos and two smaller ones. One of the small casinos would have to be in an economically disadvantaged area of the state, most likely the North Country or Cheshire County.

Casino licenses would cost $50 million for each of the two large casinos and $20 million for each of the smaller ones. That money would go into the state's general fund.

The projected $290 million annual revenue from casino operations would be used to lower business taxes.

At a news conference Monday, supporters said the proposal would bring needed jobs, revenue and business to the Granite State.

Both sides believe this week's House vote will be close. Gov. John Lynch has said he will veto the bill.


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