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Another View -- Marjorie Smith: Show me the money

March 01. 2014 10:52PM

Watching my grandchildren gathered around the game board playing Monopoly, I could not help but think about my legislative colleagues engaged in the same activity, but with real money - not their money, but the public's.

Both activities are played with rules. Parker Brothers developed the rules for the board game. For real-life monopoly, a legislative committee used public money to hire a firm that is in the casino consulting business to write the bill that sets up the rules.

White Sands officials are justifiably proud of their effort. They say that the top tier casinos really like the rules in the casino legislation now going through the New Hampshire House. And why wouldn't they? It's like the fox writing the rules for access to the chicken house.

We've had state-sanctioned monopolies in the past - created to meet the needs of the public. Telephone and electric power distribution monopolies used to be justified because the services were essential. In recent years, the nation's thinking has changed, and communication and power distribution are governed increasingly by the marketplace.

So, who can explain why a state - the state of New Hampshire, which prides itself on its libertarian traditions - would even consider putting the state seal on an out-of-state monopoly existing to generate revenue for out-of-state private investors?

Some say it's for the jobs. What jobs? I studied the bill and see no mention of job guarantees, so I looked to see what casino operators have done when they moved into other states. There were construction jobs - a good thing. But overwhelmingly, the workers were hired from other jurisdictions without any protections afforded to unionized workers. That's not surprising since at least one of the major casino operators funds one of the most active anti-union lobbies in the country. Even the labor unions know this. When one labor leader appeared before the Ways and Means Committees, after acknowledging that nowhere in the bill is there any job guarantee, he said his first step would be to try to find a compromise with the operators where his union workers would agree to work for less than the level they have fought so hard to establish.

After construction is finished, there would be jobs. The record shows that the high-paying jobs likely would go to out-of-state casino professionals already in the industry. I understand that. The casinos stand to make a lot of money and can't take the chance that new people might not understand the basic principles of this for-profit operation.

There will be jobs available. Low-wage jobs, many of which would be tip-dependent and therefore below the minimum wage, and testimony was presented that casino patrons tip less than usual if they are not winning - which means most patrons. But even for these jobs there is no guarantee of even a minimum number of jobs in the bill.

There will be the need for other jobs and other service workers to help those families torn apart by gambling, workers to help address increased crime - just two examples of what has been experienced elsewhere.

So much for jobs. What about money?

There is lots of talk about money; money that slots bring into the casino coffers, money that table games bring to the same coffers.

There is language that sets the cost of a license, and language that sets the percentage that would go to the state. Some of my colleagues otherwise opposed to casinos are supporting the bill because revenue will come to the state, but how much?

No one on any side of the issue truly knows the answer to this question. And there is certainly no guarantee in the bill concerning revenue to the state.

There is some money in the bill to address the social costs of gambling, but no plan for how those funds are to be used, or by whom.

The state hasn't done very well in the past with money for tobacco cessation. I am not confident that we would address gambling addiction any better.

But we do know what happens in other states.

In Delaware, for example, the casinos are not bringing in the revenue, that the operators expected, and they have now asked the state for an $8 million bailout. So there's a specific dollar amount, with the money going the wrong way.

I can see money changing hands - from citizens to the casino industry, from citizens to social service and policing agencies, from the casino industry to well-paid casino professionals, from the industry to construction workers who will get short-term jobs at the lowest wage scale and to others who will work for tips.

I see money coming to the state government for licenses out of which the state will have to pay the cost of research and evaluation of the applicant, and start-up services for the three years it likely will take to open the casino if the bill is enacted, but see nothing in the bill that guarantees revenue to help the state deliver essential services other than those funds for research and prevention already mentioned.

What I can't see is why the state of New Hampshire would grant a monopoly to a private, forprofit, out-of-state business to take our money and run.

Marjorie Smith is a state Representative from Durham.

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