Cook On Concord: Gambling returns to the table in Concord
Two economic matters are in the headlines in Concord and elsewhere: gambling as a revenue source for New Hampshire and the sub-prime mortgage problems that have affected the stock market and economy. Gambling first. The House Ways and Means Committee appointed three subcommittees to study potential revenue sources in an effort to get ahead of the discussion of how to fund education. These subcommittees are studying an income tax, sales tax and casino gambling. Income tax and sales tax are well-known solutions for revenue shortfalls and have been anathema to New Hampshire politicians for years. The committee studying casino gambling is beating a familiar drum (or at least those appearing before it are). For years, proponents of casino gambling in New Hampshire have attempted to get bills passed in various forms to provide a range of options, from a state-owned casino located on the Massachusetts border to several casinos to video poker machines in various locations to allowing expanding video gambling and other forms of gambling at the existing race tracks. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Christine Hamm, D-Hopkinton, is studying the entire question of casino gambling as a revenue source and the attendant social ramifications, the stability of revenue and the forms of organization. The members have four specific bills referred to them. House Bill 145, “establishing an education-funding study committee,” in essence calls for doing what the subcommittees appear to be doing anyway. HB 520 establishes a state-owned casino to provide funds for public education. Revenue would go to public schools, the university system and gambling treatment programs. HB 637 establishes a gaming oversight commission and video lottery gambling. Sponsored by Rep. Fred King, R-Colebrook, it would assure the location of some of the facilities in the North Country. Finally, HB 886 is a retread version of bills that have been before the Legislature before. It would bring video lottery machines to the existing racetracks, with the potential for other locations as well. It is a proposal that has been pushed by big gambling machine manufacturers, casino operators and the tracks for years. What is different in the context of the present sub-committee studying casino gambling is the perceived need for $400 million and the perception that gambling may be a “quick fix.” At the end of the day, whether the Legislature will think expanded gambling is the easy, quick fix and how the chief executive will view this revenue source when he has promised to veto sales and income taxes, will be a study in policy and politics. In the interest of full disclosure, I have lobbied for years against expanded gambling in New Hampshire, believe it is a dangerous way to raise revenue, a bad social and economic policy and should be off the table.