Casino referendum in Mass. seen as having no NH impact
CONCORD — A Massachusetts referendum on casino gambling is not likely to sway expanded gaming’s fate in New Hampshire, supporters and opponents say.
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said a casino referendum could go on the general election ballot after Attorney General Martha Coakley tried to block it, saying it could usurp the property rights of casino developers.
During the past two years, the New Hampshire House has blocked bills the Senate passed to authorize casino gambling — once by a one-vote margin — as well as killing its own expanded gambling bills.
While public opinion polls show widespread support for casino gambling as an alternative revenue source to fund state programs, the House has never approved it.
Gaming supporters believed the past two legislative sessions were the best opportunity to approve a casino with the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan and Massachusetts on the verge of approving three casinos and a video slot machine parlor.
Hassan and others argued the state would not only lose revenue when Massachusetts casinos open, but would have to pay the social service costs for more addicted and problem gamblers.
Hassan recently reiterated her support for casino gambling, saying it produces needed revenue without a sales or income tax, which she has pledged to veto.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has issued one license for a casino in Springfield. It was expected to issue a license later this year for a facility in the Boston area, where two companies have proposals.
New Hampshire casino advocates say the referendum will do little to change the discussion here.
Ed Callaghan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park in Salem, said the Massachusetts ruling may delay the opening of a nearby casino, but won’t stop it. There is going to be a casino in Massachusetts, he said, the only question is whether the time line is pushed out six months or a year.
“It is coming,” Callaghan said, “and it is going to cost the state (New Hampshire) money.”
The prime sponsor of Senate bills last and this session to authorize casino gambling, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he intends to introduce a similar bill next session if he wins re-election.
He said the state should consider a statewide referendum on expanded gambling.
“Let the people decide once and for all,” D’Allesandro said. “The polls show people support casinos but it lost by one vote in the legislature.”
The only way the Massachusetts referendum could be detrimental to the push in New Hampshire is if it loses, he said.
Steve Duprey, spokesman for Casino Free New Hampshire and Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, said he does not believe the referendum will have much effect in New Hampshire.
The referendum will be decided before the New Hampshire legislature meets again, he noted, but said it is further evidence that casinos are a bad idea.
“If candidates running for office believe New Hampshire needs more revenue,” Duprey said, “they should propose revenue-raising plans that don’t have so many horrible impacts.”
Gambling proponent Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said the referendum will only serve to rehash the argument that casinos are bad, bad, bad.
“We’ve seen over and over in New Hampshire polls that people want to go to gambling as a non-tax source of revenue,” Rogers said, but “It’s blocked in a legislature that does not want it, whereas in Massachusetts the legislature has approved it and they want the people to weigh in.”
The spokesman for Millennium Gaming, Rich Killion, said the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision illuminates the wide open window of opportunity for New Hampshire.
“The very close vote in the House of Representatives aside, the people of New Hampshire have consistently supported legalizing a casino in the Granite State,” Killion said. “The people know the millions of revenue, the recapture of millions of Granite State citizens’ dollars leaving the state, the thousands of permanent and temporary jobs and the significant economic development are too sizable an opportunity to ignore.”