Police associations: Casino would be no worse than a mall
CONCORD - Leaders of the state troopers and police associations said Monday the public safety benefits of bringing a single casino to the state far outweigh what they said were relatively minor criminal drawbacks.
At a news conference, David Young, president of the New Hampshire Police Association, said a casino would bring in no more new crime than a new shopping mall, while additional revenue generated by such a facility would fill 15 of 31 vacant state troopers positions on the 317-member force and, as a result, reduce response times to serious crimes.
At the same time, Young said, the additional revenue would help fund mental health programs, the Children in Need of Services program for troubled youth and would stave off an expected cut of more than 50 percent in staffing of the Attorney General's Drug Task Force, which is being brought about by the gradual reduction of federal funds.
"With the potential dissolve of the drug task force teams, local, county and state agencies will have to pick up where the drug task force cannot anymore," said Young, whose organization describes itself as representing "rank-and-file members of the New Hampshire law enforcement community."
More traffic than crime
Senate Bill 152, which would legalize 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games at a single location, and, supporters say, provide about $130 million in new revenue annually, passed the state Senate last week on a 16-8 vote. The bill is now headed to the House for review and an eventual vote. At the moment, it faces an uphill battle there, even with the strong backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan.
New Hampshire Troopers Association President Seth Cooper said the two groups came to their decisions after "thoroughly looking at the bill and speaking with law enforcement agencies in states that currently have casino-style gaming."
"The bottom line is we did our homework on this," said Cooper who heads the police union. He said the bill "provides the adequate and necessary regulations to enforce gaming."
Cooper said that police agencies in states with gambling told the New Hampshire groups that "there was no drastic increase in criminal behavior or a criminal element charging into those communities.
"What we did find was an increase in traffic volume and the added issues that come with traffic," such as motor vehicle offenses, traffic accidents and alcohol-related incidents, said Cooper.
"These incidents did not rise to the point of creating an overbearing burden on police agencies," Cooper said.
Pressed for resources
Cooper said that with a state police force pressed for resources, "25 percent of the time, it takes 15 minutes to get a trooper to a motor vehicle collision. In the most rural part of the state 13 percent of the time it takes almost 41 minutes to get a trooper to a motor vehicle collision."
He said state police are also hard-pressed to respond promptly to domestic violence incidents.
Young said local police agencies "do not have the resources to do this highly specialized work" now assigned to the drug task force. "Much drug crime will go unchecked, securing more ground for the drug trade within our state."
Young said the shooting death of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney last year illustrated "the dangers that the dealers and the drug trade are affecting in our communities.
"We do not believe that casinos in themselves and expanded gambling will bring a serious increase in crime," Young said. "Research we conducted and reviewed show that an increase in crime will be due to the influx of people in general. The same would happen with a new shopping mall in any given town."
Both officials said the support for the bill was based on decisions reached by their respective executive boards. Each group has supported attempts for expanded gambling in the state during the past several years.
Among the groups working against the bill is the Granite State Coalition Against expanded gambling.
Former state Sen. Jim Rubens, who heads the group, has organized an "informational luncheon" for state lawmakers on Wednesday during the lunch break in the House session.
Among those scheduled to speak are former state Republican Party Chair and hospitality business executive Steve Duprey and three key Democrats - former attorney general Philip McLaughlin, state Rep. Marjorie Smith and Lew Feldstein, a member of the Governor's Gaming Study Commission.
Rubens said a discussion that he and members of his group were scheduled to have with members of Hassan's staff on Monday was rescheduled for Thursday afternoon.