CONCORD — Opponents of casino gambling are promising an enhanced effort to fight any attempts to legalize expanded gaming in the upcoming legislative session.
At a press conference Tuesday, two groups opposing casino gambling in the past, Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and Casino Free New Hampshire, announced a unified effort to fight the latest attempt to expand gambling in the state.
“With (long-time anti-gambling spokesman) Jim Rubens moving on, people have been asking who would pick up the torch and lead the effort against the expansion of gambling in New Hampshire,” said former State Sen. Harold Janeway, D-Webster, “We’re here today to announce that the effort is as energized as ever.”
Maintaining a bi-partisan effort, the groups announced Republican businessman and Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling board member Steve Duprey of Concord would also serve as spokesman along with Janeway.
“We know that legislators will be under great pressure from well-funded proponents to vote for casino gambling,” said Duprey. “We urge them to continue to say ‘no’ to casinos and ‘yes’ for New Hampshire.”
Last session, the Senate passed Senate Bill 152, which allowed one resort casino along the state’s southern border — with the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan — but the bill was killed in the House.
In the upcoming 2014 session, a similar bill will be introduced by SB 152’s prime sponsor, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.
One of the concerns raised by lawmakers last session was that the state did not have a sufficient regulatory system planned or in place to oversee a casino.
To address that concern, an authority was created to produce a regulatory scheme. The commission meets Friday to review proposed legislation and direct consultants to write a final report.
Duprey said lawmakers should reject the proposed regulatory plan because it will not change the fact that casino gambling is wrong for New Hampshire. He noted state Attorney Generals for the past 40 years have opposed gambling’s expansion.
Eight House members from both parties who support expanded gambling took issue with the group’s statements on the regulatory authority.
“It is unfortunate, although not surprising, that opponents of casino gambling didn’t even wait for the final report of the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority to be released with final recommendations before attempting to choose the outcome of this important debate with the same old rhetoric,” they said in a statement. “The Authority consists of legislative leaders, the state Attorney General, the Lottery Commission and law enforcement in New Hampshire. It has also secured the services of an expert in the field of casino gaming and has heard testimony from numerous individuals of how casino gambling is working in other states and how legalized gambling is currently working in New Hampshire.”
But Janeway said if lawmakers adopt the new regulations, then casino supporters would have a better argument for moving forward.
“Once you let one in, more will follow. No state has stopped at one casino,” said Janeway, “This is not a choice we will ever be able to reverse.”
He noted there is the well-documented problem with the increase in crime and substance addiction and the social costs of program gaming.
“The negatives outweigh any potential benefits,” Duprey said. “The collateral damage from any casino to existing businesses like restaurants, hotels and cultural venues within a 50-mile radius has to be recognized. If we legalize casinos our state will be in the business of making casinos succeed and that gives the industry heavy political influence.”
The groups said they will work with lawmakers in the coming months to offset what they believe will be a well-funded effort to lobby legislators to legalize casinos in New Hampshire.
The groups include representatives of law enforcement, business, the arts, religious leaders, private citizens and legislators.
Among the group’s working in the anti-gambling effort are the Episcopal Diocese of NH, the NH Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, the League of Women Voters of NH, the NH Chiefs of Police, NH Lodging and Restaurant Association and Cornerstone Policy Research.