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A casino ghetto: What NH could become

April 22. 2013 7:05PM

The state's top advocates of legalizing casino gambling in New Hampshire are building a rickety case and shaking its joints and hinges even looser the longer they have to talk about it.

Senate Bill 152, the expanded gambling bill that has passed the Senate, requires the winner of a state casino license to invest at least $425 million in the casino, but that sum includes the $80 million cost of the license and whatever it costs to buy the land. That could drop the value of the casino itself by about $100 million. As our State House reporter Garry Rayno pointed out last week, that would make for a much smaller casino than the ones that will be built in Massachusetts, where the law's financial and physical requirements are larger and more elaborate.

We have criticized before the argument that people will flock from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to gamble when Massachusetts is going to have three casinos of its own plus a slot-machine parlor. If New Hampshire's casinos are significantly smaller and offer fewer amenities than their Massachusetts counterparts, as the differing investment requirements all but guarantee, New Hampshire casinos will draw few people from south of the border.

Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, told lawmakers last week that about 20 percent of casino patrons don't gamble, but go for the entertainment. That figure has tripled in the past decade, he said. Small New Hampshire casinos therefore will start with a competitive disadvantage, which will get worse over time.

New Hampshire is offered these casino choices: build small casinos and draw money almost entirely from within New Hampshire, cannibalizing our own economy, or build huge casinos and wipe out many existing entertainment venues, making the casinos the single focal point for large-scale entertainment in the state.

That is if any investor will risk a dime on a casino after Gov. Maggie Hassan's legal counsel, Lucy Hodder, said last week that no casino license is guaranteed for life and any one granted by the law would be subject to later adjustment (higher taxes, a change in operators, etc.) by politicians. How comforting to someone who might want to invest several hundred million dollars.

New Hampshire is preparing to become a low-end casino ghetto. Just the image this tourism-dependent state needs to project to the rest of the nation.

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