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Tom Boucher: Would a NH casino do any good for local businesses?

February 21. 2015 7:56PM

WITH YET ANOTHER push from gaming advocates looking to bring a casino (now two) into New Hampshire, Granite Staters are weighing the positives and negatives of legalizing casino gambling.

To those people on the casino fence, I'd like to offer a point of consideration, "What good would a casino do for your business or the business for which you work?"

Research shows that most casino revenue comes from people who live within a 30-mile radius of a casino. Let's imagine that you are an owner of a business in Greater Manchester and a casino opens in Salem. I'd like you to try to think of a positive outcome that casino could provide for your business. Or imagine you are an employee of that business; how would a casino benefit your employment?

For those of you who thought, "Well, it will bring people to New Hampshire, where they will subsequently spend more money in surrounding businesses," you have been severely misled. Casinos have a marvelous ability to lure people and their money in, and let nothing escape.

I am not anti-gambling, and in fact I have visited many casinos. But I've never once left a casino, gotten into my car and visited another restaurant or business in that area after spending my time and money in the casino itself. This is the true issue. The discretionary income that patrons spend at a casino is diverted from other businesses in the local economy.

What some think is a profitable plan at the state level is a complete net zero. In fact, I would argue it's worse than that because the profits from a casino are not reinvested and circulated into the local economy and other businesses.

It's estimated that the State of New Hampshire takes in about 15 percent of its revenue through taxes and other income sources that are directly related to businesses in the lodging and restaurant industries. These taxes include, but aren't limited to, meals and rental taxes, liquor purchase profits, local property taxes, business enterprise taxes and business profits taxes.

The revenue from these taxes and other income sources is more than $300 million per year to the state, again directly related to the lodging and restaurant industry. No other industry contributes this amount to the state coffers. Adding even one casino to the mix will certainly dip deeply into this number.

Discretionary spending in Greater Manchester or southern New Hampshire will not increase with the legalization of casino gambling. It will simply be displaced.

Spending at casinos means less spending at local restaurants and businesses. By taxing casino revenue, the state is simply taxing the same money that would have been spent elsewhere. The major difference is that money spent by the public at local restaurants and other businesses is circulated back into the economy. Money spent at casinos is lost to the black hole that is major gambling corporations.

As the owner and CEO of Great NH Restaurants (T-BONES, Cactus Jack's and Copper Door) and a board member of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, supporting restaurants and local businesses is of high importance to me and, I believe, to the state. However, restaurants aren't the only business that would be substantially affected by casinos in New Hampshire.

Entertainment venues across the state will be every bit as impacted as local restaurants and small businesses within a casino's immediate region. A casino steals their revenue simply by stealing entertainment acts.

For example, venues like the Verizon Wireless Arena or the Capitol Center for the Arts won't be able to compete for acts because they do not have the offsetting slot profits that a casino would have. Casinos can pay more for entertainment than private industry can.

And again, the magic of casinos is to keep patrons in-house. Catching a concert at a casino means people will be eating at whatever restaurant the casino has to offer. Local entertainment venues, however, lend themselves to a symbiotic relationship with local restaurants, which in a city like Manchester or Concord help to fuel the economy.

These points are sufficient reasons for New Hampshire to abstain from the expanded gaming industry, but to add insult to injury, we as businesses are being sold more smoke and mirrors. Businesses should not be duped into thinking that they will receive reduced business taxes if casinos are brought into the state.

Any claim that casino revenue will be used to offset or reduce the business enterprise tax, business profit tax, or anything of the like is completely unfounded. There is nothing in any bill that promises business tax relief in perpetuity, and it would not be credible if it did.

If a casino did come with a promise to reduce business taxes, any Legislature at any point could change that promise and New Hampshire would still be stuck with one or two casinos taking valuable discretionary dollars out of our economy.

What is most important to realize is that if we ever legalize casino gambling, we're in it for good. There is no backing up.

And for casino proponents to attempt to convince that state that there will only be one or two casinos is downright irresponsible. No state in this country has adopted expanded gambling and stayed at one casino. The bill writers may say one thing, but history says otherwise.

As past chairman of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurants Association, as well as a director of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, both of which have opposed casino legislation in the past, I encourage local business owners to consider the consequences of legalizing casino gambling in New Hampshire.

Once again, ask yourself this question: "What good would a casino do for my business or the business I work for?"

The answer is likely to be: "Nothing."

Tom Boucher is owner and CEO of Great NH Restaurants. He is a member of the board of directors of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and former chairman of the board of the NH Lodging and Restaurant Association.

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