Don’t gamble with N.H.’s future
The New Hampshire Senate has voted to legalize six casinos and 17,000 video slot machines. Gambling proponents want you to believe that this represents a natural progression from our lottery and charitable gaming. Don’t be fooled. Senate Bill 489 would result in a tenfold increase in gambling, and any revenue to the state comes at a high price.Eighty percent of the projected revenue from SB 489 would come from video slot machines, which have come to dominate the gambling industry by design. Fast action video draws people in and holds them in their seats. The frequent display of “near-misses” tricks the brain into thinking a win is imminent, turning recreational gamblers into addicts. Former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley called video slot machines “the crack cocaine of gambling.”The gambling industry needs compulsive gamblers — they generate at least 50 percent of all gambling revenue.While gambling companies rake in enormous profits, the costs are paid by the rest of us. Addiction leads to family breakdown, bankruptcy, suicide and crime, burdening our schools, our workplaces and our communities.We can learn from the experiences of other states.South Carolina legalized video slot machines in 1994. Within five years, there were over 30,000 gaming machines. The stories of broken lives followed: • A woman became a single mother after her husband drove their family to financial destitution, even cashing in the children’s savings bonds, to feed his video poker addiction. • A 10-day-old baby girl died after being left for nearly seven hours in a hot car while her mother played video poker. • When South Carolina’s governor opposed video slot machines, gambling interests paid $3 million for his defeat. • When video slot machines were finally outlawed in 2000, the number of Gamblers Anonymous chapters in South Carolina dropped from 40 to 16 in just six months. • In Ledyard, Conn., home of Foxwoods, property crime increased eightfold after the casino was built. • Crime tripled in the three years after the first Atlantic City casinos were built, taking the city’s crime rate from 50th in the nation to first. • Suicides more than doubled in Gulfport, Miss., in the two years after casinos arrived. • In Central City, Colo., casinos brought a sixfold increase in child protection cases.The availability of casinos within a few hours drive of New Hampshire has already had an impact. A former Carroll town clerk embezzled $117,000 from the town, and a former Ashland town manager stole over $1 million from that town, to fund their Foxwoods gambling addictions.But gambling sucks money not only from individual pockets, but also from businesses. Studies prove that most gambling revenue, other than destination resorts like Las Vegas and Connecticut, comes from people living within 50 miles. The gambling industry estimates profits of about $500 million if SB 489 passes. This is largely money that otherwise would be spent on restaurants, movies, cultural attractions and household expenses. Legitimate businesses (and the taxes they pay) will inevitably decline.The traditional road to success in America has been hard work and innovation. In recent years, too many of our best and brightest have been lured to Wall Street by the chance to make a fortune taking risks with other people’s money. Why should we allow a huge expansion of gambling, knowing that the result will be just as disastrous for some of our fellow citizens as the Wall Street “casino” has been for our nation?Mark Fernald is a former State Senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor.