Expanded gambling to south puts pressure on NH casinos

Posted Sept. 30, 2011, at 6:27 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire would see revenues head south if it does not follow Massachusetts into the world of expanded gambling, according to two reports aired Tuesday.

A House Ways and Means subcommittee working on a gambling bill to allow two casinos with 5,000 slot machines each heard the reports that say the state will lose money if it resists the lure of slot machines and commercial casinos.

Slot machine payoffs are now illegal, and other casino-style gaming is limited to charitable organizations, most of which are handled by professional game operators.

Lottery Commission executive director Charles McIntyre said state revenues would suffer what he called “a material loss” if New Hampshire did not respond to a Massachusetts legalization of slots.

“It would have a significant impact on our (Lottery) revenues, and an even more significant impact on charitable game revenues.” McIntyre said. The Massachusetts Lottery, where McIntyre used to work, will suffer more than 10 percent loss, close to $100 million, if three casinos open there, he said.

One recent Lottery survey found that people who gamble at bingo are far more likely to head to casinos, mostly in Connecticut.

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies said that if Massachusetts follows through with plans to open three resort casinos and New Hampshire does not, it would cost the Granite State roughly $73 million in direct gambling, spending and social costs.

If New Hampshire allows even one major casino in response to Massachusetts, the net gain here would be about $48 million, Center executive director Steve Norton said, based on estimates that the state would see $114 million in revenue.

That figure does not include licensing and other fees. The proposal now on the table would collect a $50 million fee from each of two companies that are granted licenses.

Norton noted that gambling of all kinds has declined during the recession, both in state lotteries and in the casino industry.

Millennium Gaming, which has the option to develop a casino at Rockingham Park in Salem, estimates the state would take in $140 million if it were in competition with Massachusetts.

None of the gains or losses discussed would occur overnight. Construction of any casino would take at least 18 months, and the expense of social costs such as divorce, bankruptcy, domestic violence, alcoholism and crime, would take months to develop after a casino opened, Norton said.

A relatively small portion, less than 2 percent, of the population is likely to become problem gamblers, suffering addiction and other social ills. The state would see as many as 3,000 pathological gamblers as a result of expanded gaming, Norton said.

Lottery and the Center disagree on what portion of New Hampshire residents already gamble at existing casinos. Norton said roughly 20 percent of state residents go once a year while the Lottery survey puts the figure at 45 percent of the general population, and 53 percent of Lottery customers.

(c)2011 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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