Anti-casino group alleges conflict for proponents
CONCORD - A leading opponent of bringing a casino to New Hampshire is charging a conflict of interest between the state's police association, troopers union and a top State House lobbyist.
Jim Rubens, a former state senator who heads the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, said Tuesday that Jim Demers of Demers and Blaisdell of Concord represent the New Hampshire Police Association and the New Hampshire Troopers Association, as well as Cannery Resorts Casinos and International Game Technology (IGT).
Cannery Resorts Casinos, is a subsidiary of Millennium Gaming, which has an option to purchase Salem's Rockingham Park, and IGT is the self-described "industry's leading manufacturer of gaming machines."
The NHPA and NHTA formally endorsed Senate Bill 152 on Monday. The bill, which passed the state Senate last week and has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan, calls for legalization of a casino with 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.
Rubens, reacting to the endorsement of the gambling bill by the two groups, said, "The police and troopers unions could speak with the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and every attorney general over the past 35 years, who have all repeatedly testified that casinos cause increases in serious crimes.
"They could review the published, peer-reviewed literature showing that casinos cause increases in serious crimes. They could read the Governor's Gaming Study Commission final report that finds that a single Salem casino as proposed would cause 1,200 additional serious crimes.
"Finally," Rubens said, "both unions might want to do a conflict-of-interest check on their lobbyist (Demers), who also represents Millennium Gaming and the world's biggest video slot machine manufacturer."
Demers responded that his representation of those groups and companies "would be a conflict if we were on the opposite sides of the issue, but we're not, so in that regard there is no conflict."
He said did not try to influence either group's stand. Both have supported expanded gambling for several years.
"I know for a fact that the troopers association looked very seriously at this and reached out to troopers in states that have casino gambling," Demers said. "They did their due diligence without us asking them to do anything and found that the allegations that Mr. Rubens makes about runaway crime just aren't true."
Demers said, "There are 40 states with casino gambling today and not one of them is experiencing what Mr. Rubens claims will happen in New Hampshire. The discussion about this is reaching the foolish stage."
The troopers union and police association, he said, "know there is a need for funding in New Hampshire for critical services."
Demers also said neither he nor partner Robert Blaisdell tried to convince the groups to the support the leading gambling bill, Senate Bill 152.
"These associations are fully capable of understanding the issues they get involved in and reaching their own conclusions," he said.
Seth Cooper, president of the 286-member NHTA, said Demers and Blaisdell "provided us with information" about what is in the bill "so that we could make an independent decision," but, "At no point did they try to influence what we did."
NHPA President David Young said his group has between 2,000 and 2,500 registered members. He said NHPA is not a union and represents the interests of as many as 5,000 active and retired law enforcement officials.
Young said his group receives information from the Demers and Blaisdell firm but was "not by any means" influenced by that firm to support Senate Bill 152.
The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police has long opposed expanded legalized gambling.
Association Second Vice President Richard Crate, chief of the Enfield Police Department, said, "The issues that were present 10 years ago are still present now. Nothing has changed."
Those issues, he said, are increased serious crime, addiction, "the breakup of the family" and potential financial damage to the existing hospitality industry.
"We only have a certain amount of revenue we can put into recreation," Crate said. "By opening a casino, we're going to start seeing families, instead of going to the White Mountains, for instance, some of those moms and dads will go down to the casino.
"I'm disappointed that the troopers and police associations are blind to that. Comparing it to a mall," as the NHPA's Young did on Monday, "is ludicrous," said Crate.