Published DateAs a community, we Granite Staters can do better when it comes to balancing our state budget and improving the communities we live in. Typically, efforts tend to get stifled by ideological positions in our Legislature that discount the reality of New Hampshire's condition and how public policy affects it. The needs of our communities that can be addressed by additional state revenue must be balanced with the concerns raised by a casino. It is understandable why the House has concerns with the Senate version of the casino bill, but rather than nix it, the House should fix it. I am calling for the Belknap County Delegation to move beyond their current positions and face the reality of where we are as a state; it is time to govern!
It is no secret that for some people, casinos carry a stigma. Furthermore, it is understandable that some could feel that gambling will tarnish the image of New Hampshire tourism. However, we have many problems afflicting our communities that truly tarnish our state's image. Homelessness is on the rise in many communities, signifying our failure to care for those in need, especially the mentally ill. This shortcoming is of further concern when it involves children, which has increasingly become the case. We simply do not have the resources to adequately care for these people who need and deserve our help, and revenues from a casino could contribute to improving our capacity to do so. It would also help the county government avoid the costs of a broken mental health system which end up being down-shifted into our local property taxes.
Another objection to casinos is derived from their capability of possibly inflicting social damage via gambling addiction. This is worth considering, but it is also worth considering where else the state already generates its revenue. Tobacco and alcohol, as well as the lottery, have high potentials to be abused. Yet, we rely on those vice-based commodities to generate a large amount of the state's revenue. I would argue that profiting off of a casino is in a similar vein.
An additional concern is that the Senate version of the casino bill predisposes a specific casino license. Although a single license poses a legitimate concern for the Belknap County Delegation, there is much more at stake, such as the mental health crisis and the capacity to absorb more state budget down-shift. Revenue from a casino could help address these issues as well as the state's reliance on the Medicaid Enhancement Tax which contributes to health insurance inflation and the undermining of health care access.
Lastly, there is the perspective that businesses that rely on tourism and entertainment as part of their business model will be hurt. This is a rather pessimistic stance that implies a certain level of scarcity in the consumer market. Another view is that a high-end destination casino will bring more people to our state, much like the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In the end, the question really becomes whether it is a bigger "gamble" to govern and get something done to help people in need and deal with the budget down-shifts, or do nothing once again to solve our problems, allowing them to fester.
(Henry Lipman represents Ward 3 on the Laconia City Council. He is senior vice president for Financial Strategies and External Relations at LRGHealthcare of Laconia.)