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What dooms casinos: It's not the fine print

March 28. 2014 11:59PM

Before the recession that hit in 2008, New Hampshire politicians were worried less about jobs and more about finding enough money to fund public schools. Sensing their opportunity, casino proponents wrote their 2008 casino bill to appeal to the much larger group of legislators who distressed themselves over education funding but were not sold on a casino. That bill said 20 percent of gross revenues should be dedicated to the education property tax. It failed.

Casino proponents figured that the bill failed because it did not devote enough money to schools. Their 2009 bill created a state-run casino that devoted 75 percent of its profits to the education trust fund, 10 percent to the university system and 10 percent to a "casino education trust fund." They presented it as a permanent solution to the education funding problem. It failed.

Last week, the Senate voted, 15-9, for a bill to allow two casinos in the state. Its supporters figure that the last casino bill, which failed in the House in early March, was doomed because it allowed only one casino. Surely a bill that allows twice as many casinos will be the one!

The Legislature's casino backers continue to repeat their mistakes. They tailor each bill to a narrow group of holdouts in the House. When the bill fails, they adjust it to answer the objections of the last group of holdouts. This continues year after year after year. Never does it occur to casino proponents that the bills are not dying for their fine print.

Lucky Lou D'Allesandro, the state's leading casino proponent, calls his latest effort "a piece of economic recovery and job creation." In 2009, he called it a stimulus package, saying "this is about economic opportunity and job creation." At least he remembers his lines.

His fellow legislators remember, too. They remember all of the previous rhetoric and tweaks. They remember the numbers, which don't change as much as the bills do. Those numbers show time after time that casino gambling costs more than it gains the state. It is the big picture, not the fine print, that dooms these bills. But casino proponents are too dazzled by dollar signs to see it.

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