April 17. 2013 10:34PM

Another View -- Nicolette B. Clarke, Patricia Lynch, Alec Doyle, and Heather Clow: Casinos will devastate NH's non-profit performing-arts centers

Nicolette B. Clarke, Patricia Lynch, Alec Doyle, and Heather Clow

The concern that casinos would have negative effects on existing large performance venues such as the Verizon Wireless Arena and the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom has led proponents of expanded gambling to suggest that performance venues within casinos be limited to fewer than 1,500 seats. Given this assertion, it seems time to hear from a group of nonprofit venues that bring top artists to New Hampshire communities via historic theaters with seating capacities of 700-1,300.

Over the last 20 years, the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, The Music Hall in Portsmouth, the Colonial Theatre in Keene, and the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon all were lovingly restored with contributions from hundreds of individuals and businesses and thousands of community volunteers. Annually, approximately 285,000 people come through the doors of these theaters to enjoy a show, community event, business meeting or reception. All of these organizations have breathed new energy into their communities, restaurants and downtown businesses. Unfortunately, all four of these wonderful venues across the state face a critical threat from resort casinos and their performance venues.

What's the threat? First, studies in other states have shown that discretionary spending will shift from existing amusement and entertainment entities to casinos if casinos are introduced into the state. This is likely to result in the loss of 7 to 15 percent of annual revenues for existing theaters in New Hampshire.

Second, performing arts centers will lose their top headline performers to casinos - performers such as B.B. King, Bill Cosby, Lewis Black, Sarah McLachlan and Willie Nelson, to name a few. Our colleagues in nearby states have provided ample evidence that casinos operate with 100-mile radius exclusion clauses in their artist contracts. Limiting the talent pool puts additional pressure on theaters in New Hampshire that work on the thinnest of margins. It also will restrict where citizens can enjoy big-name artists.

In addition, resort casinos like those already operating in Connecticut pay above-market rates for performers and charge less for tickets. They regularly give away free incentives, including theatre tickets, hotel rooms and meals in excess of 10 percent of their annual gaming revenue. The casino isn't selling tickets to pay for the show; it's giving away free tickets so people will come and gamble. There is no way for nonprofit arts presenters to compete with the casino industry. The deck is definitely stacked in the casino industry's favor.

The network of New Hampshire nonprofit performing arts centers that has developed over the last 20 years or so operates with a philosophy that a thriving cultural community benefits all, and though there is some healthy competition among individual organizations, we work cooperatively through a network service organization to facilitate tours and share ideas that results in exciting and diverse programming for New Hampshire audiences.

The gambling industry has the potential to dismantle a significant segment of the state's cultural life. Thousands of individuals have invested time and money to bring performing arts venues back to life for the benefit of citizens across the state. Negative impacts on community life make casinos a bad bet for New Hampshire.

Nicolette B. Clarke is executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. Patricia Lynch is executive director of The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Alec Doyle is executive director of the Colonial Theatre in Keene. Heather Clow is executive director of the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon.