Gov. Maggie Hassan showed Thursday that she’s ready to toss the dice on bringing gambling to the state by including $80 million in projected revenue from a casino licensing fee in her proposed budget.
Presenting her proposal to state lawmakers, Hassan said that with Massachusetts recently receiving 11 applications for its three available licenses it’s clear that there’s “more than enough room for a New Hampshire casino.”
Hassan’s budget plan admirably takes significant steps toward reversing some of the regressive budget cuts enacted by the last Legislature.
Her plan restores the university system’s funding to 90 percent of its previous level, puts $4 million toward college scholarships, invests in innovative technical training programs, restores building and catastrophic special education aid to schools, funds construction of a new women’s prison, puts money back into natural and historical preservation, and strengthens funding for mental health services at the state and community levels.
Hassan’s proposal pays for these services with a package of new revenue streams, including: repealing a 10-cent cigarette tax and then going further to boost the tax an additional 20 cents (which we hope lawmakers might also use to increase smoking cessation program funding, since federal lawsuit money for that purpose is rerouted to the state’s general fund), and finding and reducing government waste.
And then there’s the casino fee. It concerns us that Hassan is placing so much weight on a projected revenue source that may not exist anytime soon, if at all.
State lawmakers haven’t begun yet to hash out legislation permitting expanded gambling, making discussion about licensing fees rather premature. If a law were to pass, state officials would have to craft regulations and put the license out for bid.
Take, for example, Massachusetts, where lawmakers passed a law allowing three new casinos in 2011. The Bay State’s gaming commission isn’t even expected to release its first license until February 2014, the Boston Globe reported earlier this week.
It’s also troublesome that Hassan’s proposal hinges on an $80 million revenue projection for a casino license — far higher than what at least one Granite State research group has said is realistic. Last month, N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies Executive Director Steve Norton told House Ways and Means committee members that even a $50 million estimate may be too high, adding that New Hampshire’s price will likely depend on how soon Massachusetts opens casinos.
The governor and state lawmakers face a budgetary challenge, to be sure. They’re crafting a budget at a time when the nation faces great uncertainty about federal spending and uneasiness about the overall trajectory of the economy.
During tough times, those brave enough to take big financial risks often stand to gain the most. But we fear that Hassan’s reliance on a new casino serving as a hefty portion of the state’s revenue picture in the coming biennium may be a poor wager.