Fergus Cullen: For casino backers, any argument will do
In a classic skit from Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd and his wife bicker about Shimmer, a product they both love for different reasons. Chevy Chase settles the argument: Shimmer is a floor wax - and a dessert topping! Tastes terrific, and just look at that shine.
So it is with the casino lobby in New Hampshire. No matter what your problem, expanded gambling is the product for you.
When Pease Air Force Base closed in the early 1990s, the gambling lobby suggested a casino in Newington could fill the void. When the feds cut Medicaid enhancement funds a few years later, video gaming would plug the Mediscam budget hole.
Never let a crisis go to waste. For backers of casino gambling, any argument will do.
When the state moved toward universal mandatory kindergarten, allowing video poker at dying dog tracks in Belmont, Seabrook and Hinsdale could pay for it. After the Claremont court decision in 1997, then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen backed "slots for tots" as a means of increasing state aid for education.
A decade ago, one gambling plan earmarked revenue to fund prescription drugs for seniors. With unemployment high during the ongoing recession, longtime pro-casino state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro called his gambling bill a jobs bill.
Now Gov. Maggie Hassan says licensing a casino is the only way for the state to restore cuts to the University of New Hampshire and, capitalizing on Newtown, to pay for mental health programs. Pass casinos or risk a mass school shooting.
They're miracle products, those casinos. They're like Ginsu knives sold on late-night television. After providing enough money to fund schools and employ thousands, they can cut through a tin can and still cleanly slice a tomato - without social costs!
Legislators should be wary of casino lobbyists who act like guys in a singles bar as closing time approaches, using whatever come-on line fits the moment in their effort to take you home.
Watching the deep-pocketed gambling lobby in action has prompted longtime observers to worry that a future casino industrial complex would dominate New Hampshire's volunteer Legislature in short order. These opponents see corruption and crime as intrinsic to gambling, based on the experience of other states. They worry about social costs, which even the governor acknowledges will increase as a result of her plan. She's OK with that, but legislators may be less cavalier about collateral damage.
I describe myself as pro-choice on gambling. If you like to gamble or see it as just another form of entertainment, I'm not going to prevent you from visiting Vegas or Foxwoods. I think buying lottery tickets is for people who are bad at math, so I don't buy them. You can do what you like.
But one can be pro-choice on gambling and still think it's a bad idea to open a casino in New Hampshire.
Allowing one casino, as Gov. Hassan has proposed, is like watching one ant walk across your kitchen counter. That ant is a scout, and there won't be just one ant for long. Were one casino to open, pressure would build immediately for more, either because the first casino is making money or because it isn't making enough. The first gambling addict will be state government, which will be hooked on the money even as returns diminish.
So allowing one casino is to expect slot machines all over the state. One past proposal would have allowed 100 slot machines at any hotel with more than 100 beds. That would fundamentally alter New Hampshire's brand as a family-friendly place to vacation.
"Casinos provide very few high-skill, living-wage jobs and no exportable or value-added product or service. As an economic strategy, casinos take our state in precisely the wrong direction," former state Sen. Jim Rubens told me this week. Rubens leads the volunteer-driven Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling. The only ones who get rich from casinos are the owners. It's the first rule of gambling: The house always wins.
"It's called gambling because it's a gamble," former Gov. Steve Merrill, a gambling opponent, used to say. Gov. Hassan is finding that out for herself.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.
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Kenneth Dye said:
I couldn't have stated this better (mostly because I am not a gifted writer) Since Governor Hassan first included gambling revenue in her budget proposal, the list of problems it will address and the projected revenue from it have both increased. Casino gambling is not now, nor has it ever been a "silver bullet" solution to the economic issues we face. If gambling is the only alternative we have to a broad based tax in N.H. we need to take a very hard look at ourselves, our priorities and what we want our state to be, both now and in the future. If I told my lovely wife I was going to gamble to make ends meet, I would probably have a lovely ex-wife. I understand that a casino is probably coming but there cannot be "only one" and it will not solve the problems we face in the long run.
March 15, 2013 3:29 am
Gary Hoffman said:
I have no problem with a casino, but I want a guarantee that 100% of the tax money goes to reducing taxes, not more State spending.
March 15, 2013 8:54 am
WILLIAM A DUNCAN said:
I'm a strong Maggie supporter but I laughed all the way through this column. It's not just the 25 different metaphors, but they're dead on. For anyone who hasn't see it, here's a minute of the SNL skit: http://www.hulu.com/watch/61320
March 15, 2013 9:08 am
Leo Paradis said:
Correct: Casinos jobs are pretty much low skill and they export little of value. On the other hand, selling butts and booze probably requires an MBA at least, they are exportable and have none of those evil social costs. Throw fireworks in there and the picture gets even better! Q: Does anyone read this silliness before it's published?
March 15, 2013 9:16 am
Martha Spalding said:
How would the old tariffs on trade work?The price of sneakers and everything else made in China hasn't lowered the cost.Who's getting the profits?Who's offshoring the profits?Is free trade the answer?Clinton, Bush and Gingrich, iow's, both sides of the aisle said free trade would be a boom to the economy.How's it working out?
March 16, 2013 12:03 am
Len Cannon said:
I'm with Gary Hoffman on this one. I don't see this as a revenue enhancement (aka: raising taxes on you and me) issue at all. I see it as a personal liberty issue. If people want to smoke, let them smoke (away from non-smokers like myself). If people like to gamble, let them gamble. It is done by their own volition unlike confiscatory taxation. Take any money brought in by gambling and use it to pay down debt, etc. It's the money that always causes the issue.
March 16, 2013 8:41 am
eric boyle said:
Gary is right, but I still do not want a casino in NH. NO CASINOS IN NH!!!
March 17, 2013 7:42 am
Niel Young said:
FERGUS: "one can be pro-choice on gambling and still think it's a bad idea to open a casino in New Hampshire". I have to stand with Fergus on this one. I also agree with Ken, Gary, Len, and Eric. Bottom Line: Do not count this new revenue stream as part of Ways & Means. Do not see this license money as permanent. Do not hire 15 new state police officers. How does anyone expect a casino in Salem to compete with Mass, Connecticut, and Maine gambling? What could possibly draw folks from surrounding states to Salem? While the state budget is going down the tube this gambling idea does not help anyone above Manchester with tax relief. In this economy, why bother? BTW, any $$ from gambling will not become available within the next two years. firstname.lastname@example.org
March 17, 2013 5:54 pm
paul cote said:
Fergus Cullen from "wolfboro". .400k house, probably has inherited some cash since his business doesn't look like much but somehow he feels neccessary to chirp in about a Casino in Salem all the way from Wolfboro. This is what Fergus does for a living............... Cullen Communications teams with government affairs professionals and issue advocates to provide research, advocacy, and public affairs support. We work where policy, politics, and government come together...... Sounds like some sort of lobbyist... Casino's are not what should be outlawed.. Lobbyist should be outlawed. It's time for fundemental change in government and guys who make their living like this.. Gone. So Fergus, you say you are a Republican, you live in NH, Live Free or Die. What's the problem here, if the casino goes in and people don't go then it will go out of business and that will be the end of it.. It's the free market..Or don't you believe in the free market. I am so sick and tired of so many of my fellow Republicans whining about this issue. Get off your soapbox before the party loses more people like me. Maybe you whiners are just a bunch of RINO's...
March 23, 2013 6:37 am
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