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Rep. William Butynski: A casino gambling plan that works for NH

March 04. 2014 4:37PM

Right now, New Hampshire’s official approach to gambling is a lot like “hide and go seek.” Operators of the state’s nine “charity casinos” operate in a system that has insufficient oversight, while thousands of Granite Staters and visitors to our state try and seek out an entertainment option they demand.

We can do better. The numbers show there is substantial demand and interest in casino-style gambling in New Hampshire. But instead of hiding our eyes and ignoring a $75 million cash business that’s currently run like the wild west, we can create a smart regulatory framework and act on a plan for one high-end casino in New Hampshire. We can meet the public’s clear demand for entertainment, we can protect charities that rely on this revenue resource, and we can ensure the games are run with proper oversight.

Like the New Hampshire Sunday News headline from Feb. 9 stated, gambling is already here. Let’s build a system that capitalizes on the popularity of gambling and protects our tourism businesses from losing big when Massachusetts casinos open in the near future. Gov. Maggie Hassan has it right. We do not want $75 million dollars or more of money from New Hampshire residents going to Massachusetts casinos to fund Massachusetts programs. We want that money to stay in New Hampshire to help fund our own priorities.

This isn’t a matter of whether the public wants this entertainment option. This is a matter of creating a plan that is fair and reasonable.

New Hampshire House members have a plan before them which we believe will accomplish those goals. House Bill 1633 calls for one high-end casino. It will raise about $100 million in non-tax revenue for New Hampshire. It will also create a magnet for out-of-state visitors who will also come to our state to eat in local restaurants, visit local scenic spots and spend their money on entertainment, retail and hotels. People want variety. This will be one additional reason to visit New Hampshire.

The plan requires a local vote by the host community before a casino can be built, and it provides funds for area towns to help them with infrastructure. HB 1633 also mandates that money be used to help prevent and treat problem gambling issues. That’s a responsible approach.

In addition, this plan would protect the many charities in New Hampshire that rely on gambling events to help fund their worthy causes. We have crafted specific language to ensure that if New Hampshire charities continue to sponsor or even run their own gaming efforts as part of their fundraising, the New Hampshire casino will make up the difference of any revenue that is lost because of competition. The clause essentially states that if a New Hampshire casino reduces your charitable gaming revenues, the casino must provide a check to at least make up the difference for the $13 million that charities rely upon each year.

It is a better offer than current charity gaming sites can make. Whether a casino opens in New Hampshire, these charity operations will likely lose some business when Massachusetts casinos open for business. Our amendment ensures that if New Hampshire builds a casino, local charities will be protected. They have no such protections from revenue drops if we do not pass this proposal.

Our concern is not with charity gaming operators who have had a serious lack of oversight for too long. Our priority is protecting revenues for charities around New Hampshire that collect millions of dollars each year for their own worthy causes. They deserve our help, and this is a reasonable way to make sure they can count on these funds.

Some charity casino operators claim this will only work if they stay in business. That’s simply not true. And despite their claims about this being a false promise, there is no end date for this protection for gaming income for charities.

We are confident that HB 1633 is the right plan for New Hampshire. This is a common-sense approach for our state. We consider it a safe bet.

William Butynski is a Democratic state representative from Hinsdale. Katherine Rogers is a Democratic state representative from Concord.

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