If you watched election returns from the Bay State Tuesday night, no doubt you saw the results on the issue of gambling. Voters in both Palmer and East Boston rejected proposals to build a casino in their communities. This is good news for New Hampshire.
Central to every proposal to expand gambling in New Hampshire has been the concept of local approval. Our own proposed legislation would allow licensing to go forward only after local approval had been obtained through a vote in the proposed host community. Massachusetts has a similar requirement, and on Tuesday two proposed host communities, East Boston and Palmer, both said no
The local approval requirement has been part of the contemplated New Hampshire regulatory structure because local approval is at the heart of how New Hampshire governs itself. If the community does not want the project, the project doesn't happen there. In Massachusetts, two communities said no despite vigorous campaigns in support of proposed casinos. New Hampshire folks know how to say no just as well as do those in Massachusetts. Local approval works.
People on both sides of the gambling debate can agree on one significant reality: as soon as casinos open for business in Massachusetts, there will be an immediate and long-term negative impact on New Hampshire. Lawmakers and business leaders agree that Bay State casinos will drain millions from New Hampshire's revenue streams. A study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies concludes that our state's budget will lose nearly $50 million in revenues from the rooms and meals tax and lottery sales going forward. These estimates are on top of the more than $80 million our residents spend annually on gambling outside of the state.
New Hampshire already has "social costs" associated with gambling from the out-of-state activity and the significant amount of unregulated charitable gaming that goes on within our state now. New gambling facilities that will eventually be sited in Massachusetts will exacerbate this problem. Neither out-of-state casinos nor New Hampshire-based charitable gambling contributes any resources to help treat with these costs. Part of the revenue of a New Hampshire-based casino would be dedicated to just this purpose.
The vote in Massachusetts has given New Hampshire an unexpected opportunity. We now have the chance to be the first into the marketplace with a gambling facility that meets our needs and conforms to our concerns instead of reacting to what happens to our south.
Tuesday's votes force Massachusetts to listen to what its citizens want. In New Hampshire, we should do exactly the same thing — listen to what our citizens want. On the question of expanded gambling, what New Hampshire citizens want could not be clearer.
Look at a public opinion survey conducted just last week by the University of New Hampshire. Voters were asked whether they want to legalize expanded gambling in our state. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said yes, 33 percent said no, and 8 percent were neutral. Given the close margins of so many major issues of our time, that poll is a very clear signal that Granite Staters support gambling. In every region of our state and in every demographic, people support expanded gambling. A UNH poll conducted last February shows almost identical results.
Expanded gambling means a new reason to stay and play in New Hampshire. It means jobs. It means non-tax revenues. It means we can beat Massachusetts.
If a clear majority of New Hampshire supports casino gambling, and local control is a central part of any plan considered in our state, then we have the right road map for doing it right.
Gov. Maggie Hassan supports the idea. The GOP-led New Hampshire Senate has strongly endorsed gambling. And a majority of New Hampshire House Democrats voted for gambling.
We are close. Our colleagues said no to gambling last May primarily out of concern over the need for stricter rules and regulations for operating a casino in this state. Right now, the state's Gambling Authority, made up of law enforcement and legislative leaders, is working on recommendations to create a strict new framework for how a casino would operate in New Hampshire. The report is due next month, in time to be incorporated into a proposal for lawmakers.
Let's give our citizens a voice in this debate. We have a new opportunity to compete with Massachusetts and respond to the clear desire of Granite State voters. We have all the ingredients. It's time to move forward.
Rep. Linda DiSilvestro is a Democrat from Manchester, Rep Raymond Gagnon is a Democrat from Claremont, Rep. Laura Pantelakos is a Democrat from Portsmouth, and Rep. Katherine Rogers is a Democrat from Concord.