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‘Legislative cocaine:’ Gambling and state revenue

The repeated attempts over the years to bring casino gambling to New Hampshire continue today as the House is scheduled to vote on yet another bill to legalize casinos. This bill deserves to fail as all the previous ones have failed. By now, legislators can see that casinos create many addicts, none more dangerously hooked than the state government.

Supporters always promise that free revenue will rain down upon the state if a casino is built. Time after time, legislators do their homework and discover that the revenue does not come easily or painlessly. In addition to revenues being highly volatile, the experience from other states shows that they decrease over time.

As Andy Lietz, chairman of former Gov. John Lynch’s Gaming Study Commission, has written, a casino “is not the state budget fix that many people think it is. Across the country gambling dollars have become what some refer to as ‘legislative cocaine.’ Once you have a little bit of it, you want more. The state will not be able to control casino or slot machine gaming the way it thinks it will.”

New Hampshire’s experience with lottery tickets bears this out. We wound up with $20 scratch tickets in our frenzied effort to maintain the revenue stream. Likewise, a state that allows one casino will allow others as revenue from the first one sinks. Addicted, the state will forever seek bigger revenue highs.

Moreover, with casinos now coming to Massachusetts, any New Hampshire casino will draw primarily New Hampshire gamblers. This will not be new money coming into the state, but money shifted from one in-state entertainment option (dinner, movies, shows, skiing) to the casino. Casinos transfer wealth (primarily to billionaire casino operators). They always have been a bad bet for New Hampshire, and that is even more true now.

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