John F.J. Sullivan - Casino gambling slightly favored, but NH is hardly ‘all in’

By John F.J. Sullivan, Live Free or Die Alliance (http://nhlfda.org)

On May 15, a New Hampshire House joint Fiscal and Ways & Means Committee voted 23-22 against Senate Bill 152, which seeks to clear the way for a single casino in the Granite State’s southern tier. An assessment of the Live Free or Die Alliance’s 13,500 Facebook followers who responded to a related question showed strong support for casino gambling in New Hampshire, though a significant level of opposition was also evident.

In the wake of the House “supercommittee’s” vote, we asked our followers: “Do you support or oppose casino gambling in New Hampshire?” Within 24 hours the question received 126 responses, including “likes,” “shares” and comments, from 115 individuals.

Most (56 percent) expressed support for casino gambling, while 32 percent opposed it and 12 percent of the comments were either judged unresponsive to the question or too ambivalent to tally.

Those who supported casino gambling pointed to its potential for revenue (and the hopes that slot machines and legalized, for-profit table games would serve as a hedge against future tax increases). What’s more, supporters said, other states have already figured this out.

“I wholeheartedly support casino gambling in NH, and really wish we could get this going sooner rather than later,” said one woman whose comment was echoed by many. “We are losing huge amounts of revenue to other states. We need to keep NH money in NH, and get other people to come here to gamble.”

Others said that, in a free society, the state shouldn’t attempt to “legislate morality” and ridiculed arguments tying gambling to vice and more serious crime. “The arguments against it are weak. People that oppose it lead sheltered silver spoon lives,” one man said. “The problems they say it will create already exist and have for a while.”

But opponents insisted that a casino promises nothing more than profits to gambling moguls and would present a dangerous distraction to New Hampshire’s fiscal problems.

“This will victimize the weakest in our society, increase crime, and siphon off business from legitimate enterprises,” one man said. “Most of the money goes out of state. This scheme simply points out the need to implement real reform.”

In addition to the pros and cons, just over 7 percent of respondents criticized the “one casino” model, regardless of whether they supported or opposed gambling in general. One respondent who said gambling wouldn’t pay off as a panacea for the state’s fiscal woes suggested that, were New Hampshire to expand gambling, it should allow small casinos or video poker at numerous established businesses, rather than looking to a single casino. Another, a man who supports expanded gambling, objected to state-sanctioned “gambling monopolies.”

The Live Free or Die Alliance presents this report not as any sort of scientific poll or survey, but rather a digest of citizen testimony. As New Hampshire's Town Hall, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Live Free or Die Alliance is free and open to all, offering a unique and important mechanism for nearly 16,000 community members to express their views.

As legislation to allow casino gambling makes its way to the House floor this week, lawmakers – already equipped with their own research, judgment and conscience – would be wise to recognize the views of the citizens. Judging from our response, support for Senate Bill 152 is significant, though hardly absolute and not without reservation.

John F.J. Sullivan is editor-in-chief of the Live Free or Die Alliance (http://nhlfda.org).