This was to be the year that a casino passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The governor campaigned on expanded gambling, included it in her budget, and lobbied legislators aggressively. The bad economy turned some previous opponents into supporters. The conditions were more favorable than they had been in 15 years. And still, on Wednesday only 41 percent of the state’s 400 House members (164) voted for the casino bill. Opponents garnered 199 votes, a margin of victory of 35, not that close.
Not even the governor’s 15 minute speech inside the House Democratic caucus — a rare move for a governor — could save the bill, and the governor’s budget. Ninety-two Demcorats voted against the casino bill, and against their governor.
Immediately after the vote, Las-Vegas-based casino company Millenium Gaming, which has an option to build a casino at Rockingham Park, issued a statement claiming that “the House chose today to stand against the people of New Hampshire and their 2-to-1 support for casino gambling in our state.”
When Hillary Clinton won the 2008 New Hampshire primary after Barack Obama had led in the polls for months, pundits wondered for months how that could happen. The polls, they figured, were the accurate reflection of the will of the people of New Hampshire, not the actual vote results. Millenium and other gambling supporters make a similar mistake year after year.
How can casino bills keep being defeated in a state in which polls show strong public support for expanded gambling? The best answer is that people support expanded gambling in the abstract, but legislation is concrete. When House members — elected from among the people who generally support gambling — review detailed gambling bills, most of them conclude that the revenue is lower than they assumed and the costs are greater.
It is one thing to imagine a swanky luxury casino luring tourists to the state; it is another to review the data and realize that the casino would not be so swanky, most of its revenue would come from inside the state, and serious negative consequences would follow in its wake.
The House did not “stand against the people of New Hampshire.” It did its duty to the people by studying a complex issue and reaching the only responsible conclusion, as it always has on this issue.