Cook On Concord: Legalized gambling debate looms for lawmakers yet again
On Feb. 19, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hear the two main gambling bills that again have been introduced in the Legislature this year. Virtually the same as prior proposals, Senate Bills 306 and 330 promise to be the subject of lively and vigorous debate.
SB 306 is sponsored by Sen. John Gallus, a Republican from Berlin. It permits video gambling in certain locations in Coos County, permits the building of “one economic development resort and casino” in Berlin, establishes an education property tax rebate fund with the proceeds and allows the commissioner of the Department of Revenue Administration to reduce property taxes by using the money in the fund.
SB 330, a retreaded bill sponsored, as in the past, by Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, allows video lottery gambling at grand hotels in Coos County and at racetracks, establishes a “gaming enforcement division” in the Department of Safety and a “New Hampshire thoroughbred and standardbred horse breeding program fund.”
A number of lobbyists and consultants have been hired to put great spin on the wonders and benefits of video machines at racetracks and grand hotels, although the grand hotels have not been asking for such benefits. At hearings in the past, “experts” from all over the country have been brought in to explain how clean, easily regulated, and innocuous expanded gambling is. The lure of projected state revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars is dangled before senators and representatives.
This year, similar testimony is expected. However, it will be presented against the backdrop of gambling revenue results in other states that have been well below projections. Nevertheless, New Hampshire legislators will be promised “free” increases in state revenue if only they allow this to happen here.
On a recent visit to Las Vegas to attend a convention I was amazed to see the number and type of machines that have replaced the old slot machines. No longer do you deposit a quarter, silver dollar or dollar bill. Now, you insert your money or credit card, and your winnings, or more predictably, your losses, are calculated for you electronically.
Reminders that this is not wholesome activity could be seen at 7 in the morning on Sunday, when a number of solitary people still were seated, staring at the machines — sad and pathetic-looking folks, and not one was smiling. At the airport on the way home, I overheard a man, perspiring, explaining to his wife on his cell phone that he had lost tens of thousands of dollars.
Expanded gambling is opposed by the chiefs of police, the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, religious and civic groups, among others. Governor Lynch has said that he would have to have “overwhelming evidence” that such expansion would not have a negative effect before he would support or allow it.
New Hampshire legislators should do this year what they have over the years, and that is defeat these proposals that are bad policy, unreliable revenue-raisers, and would negatively affect the quality of life in New Hampshire and prey on our most vulnerable citizens. Something promoted as seemingly too good to be true is too good to be true.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I lobby for clients against expanded gambling — but that is because I agree with them!)
There are many quiet heroes among us – people who live their lives well, professionally, contribute to their communities, families and state and create the glue that is the antidote to scandal, fluff, controversy and the cheapening of society and its values.
One of those people died recently, way too young. Winn Arnold, an attorney with the state Department of Justice until his recent retirement for health reasons, was 60. Arnold had been with the attorney general’s office for over a decade, representing agencies including the Ballot Law Commission. Before that, he was executive director of the Public Utilities Commission.
He was a UNH graduate, went to law school at night, and was active in his community and the schools his children attended. A gentle, kind and friendly man, his warm smile and optimistic attitude were constant.
He was active in the Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester, teaching and leading.
Lives like these should be celebrated as the standards that keep us together as a community. Winn Arnold was taken by leukemia way too soon — but the quality of his life and example remain.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.