CONCORD, N.H. – Don’t let Massachusetts walk away with millions of dollars from casinos that could help New Hampshire pay for education, hospital aid and school construction, Gov. Maggie Hassan urged the House on Tuesday.
The House has consistently rejected casino bills over the years, but Hassan and casino supporters argued that the one before lawmakers now has a new urgency: New Hampshire will lose money once three casinos are finally licensed and operating in neighboring Massachusetts.
“We can no longer pretend that gambling isn’t coming to our communities. It is already here,” Hassan told a joint House committee.
Hassan told the lawmakers that the spending she seeks has bipartisan support.
“The choice comes when we consider how to pay for these crucial investments,” she said.
A Senate bill passed last month would license a single casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games in New Hampshire. The proposal earmarks the revenue from gambling for highway improvements, higher education and economic development in the state’s North Country.
Hassan’s proposed budget counts on $80 million from licensing a casino and raising the tobacco tax 30 cents to $1.98 per pack of cigarettes.
The House passed a budget April 3 that splits the difference. It leaves out the gambling revenue but gives less money to higher education and hospitals than Hassan’s budget calls for and places a moratorium on money for new school construction.
Senate Republicans won’t build their budget using gambling money unless the House passes its casino bill and if the House doesn’t, the Senate could cut spending as much as $100 million rather than raise taxes, said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and bill sponsor.
“We don’t want to lose to Massachusetts,” he said.
Hassan and state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor, said arguments against gambling are similar to those made 50 years ago when New Hampshire legalized the lottery, when opponents warned the lottery would prove to be a tragic mistake.
“We do not have moral bankruptcy in New Hampshire,” he said.
But Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice countered that the addictive nature of video slot machines is far different from scratch tickets and the other games allowed now. Rice said increased crime and social problems will come with a casino.
“Do not be lured by the promise of easy money coming into the state,” she said.
House Judiciary Chairwoman Marjorie Smith said it was unlikely the money would be available for the two-year budget the House and Senate must agree to by July 1, since it would probably take two years from legislative approval to the day a casino opened its doors.
State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican, said a casino would hurt small businesses because people would spend their spare cash in a casino instead of buying their goods and services. She also said New Hampshire’s traditional image as a family-friendly tourist state would be drowned out by millions in marketing spent by a casino to attract customers.