Saying that New Hampshire must take action to invest in the priorities that will create jobs and build a more innovative economic future, Governor Maggie Hassan testified today before a Joint House Finance and Ways & Means Committee in favor of SB 152, bipartisan legislation that would license one high-end, highly regulated casino in order to restore funding for critical areas such as higher education, uncompensated care at hospitals and school building aid.
"SB 152 will help New Hampshire implement our own plan for a more innovative economic future by allowing us to invest in the priorities needed to strengthen our economy and fund services that improve the health and well-being of our citizens," Governor Hassan testified. "While I appreciate the hard work done by the House Finance Committee to develop their budget plan during these challenging economic times, I believe that SB 152 affords us the opportunity to build upon that work by injecting new, non-taxpayer based revenue into the equation to fund items left unaddressed that remain important to Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike."
Governor Hassan emphasized that generating revenue from a casino to invest in New Hampshire's priorities is a plan supported by a strong majority of Granite Staters. The most recent WMUR/UNH Survey Center Granite State Poll found that almost two-thirds (63%) favor a casino as outlined in SB 152, with support running across party lines and strong throughout all regions of the state.
"Across New Hampshire, our citizens have made it clear that a high-end casino is their preferred way to increase state support for our priorities," Governor Hassan said. "With intense competition from Massachusetts looming, the time to move forward is now to benefit New Hampshire while maintaining our brand as a safe, family-friendly state with a vibrant outdoor economy."
The Governor also emphasized that SB 152 would establish a robust regulatory structure - led by the State Lottery Commission in conjunction with the State Police and Department of Justice - and that a casino will not open before this comprehensive regulatory infrastructure is fully operational. Governor Hassan also highlighted that SB 152 would provide funds to help address gambling addiction and alcohol and drug abuse, social costs that are already present in New Hampshire but which the state does not currently have funds to address.
The following is the full text of Governor Hassan's prepared testimony to the Joint Committee:
Good Morning Madam Chair and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today in support of SB 152.
SB 152 allows for the licensing of one high-end, highly-regulated casino in NH that will bring hundreds-of-millions of dollars in new private sector investment into our state, provide needed revenue for critical re-investment in priorities like higher-education, uncompensated care for our hospitals, school building aid and economic development in the North Country, and generate thousands of new jobs.
SB 152 will help New Hampshire implement our own plan for a more innovative economic future by allowing us to invest in the priorities needed to strengthen our economy and fund services that improve the health and well-being of our citizens.
In February I proposed a fiscally responsible balanced budget for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 that refocuses on the priorities so critical for driving innovation and strengthening our economy. It's a budget that begins rebuilding based on the areas that are imperative for New Hampshire's future.
My budget proposed what I believe is the best way to pay for our priorities as a state, including allowing one high-end, highly regulated casino that will provide a much-needed revenue source to help us seize the promise of the innovation economy.
While I appreciate the hard work done by the House Finance Committee to develop their budget plan during these challenging economic times, I believe that SB 152 affords us the opportunity to build upon that work by injecting new, non-taxpayer based revenue into the equation to fund items left unaddressed that remain important to Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.
Priorities such as restoring critical funds for our university system in order to freeze tuition, for uncompensated care at New Hampshire's hospitals, and for school building aid to local communities have support from all parties, as the House budget notes. I know you agree that we must do more in some priority areas. The choice comes when we consider how we pay for these crucial investments.
I support allowing one high-end casino in New Hampshire because it will allow us to fund the priorities that are so vital to our quality of life while bringing an estimated 2,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 permanent jobs to New Hampshire, providing an important economic boost.
The bill will provide $80 million in one-time licensing revenue that can be used for the FY 2014-'15 budget, a capital investment requirement of at least $425 million, and the potential for additional millions in annual tax revenue going forward.
This bill also allocates funding to address social costs such as substance abuse and gambling addiction that already exist and will continue to exist with the casino development plans in Massachusetts. Even with a sizable gambling presence now - with $700 million per year in gambling-related activity in our state according to the 2010 Governor's Gaming Study Commission - NH provides little resources.
We know that a market exists for expanded gambling in New Hampshire and just across our borders in our New England neighbors. According to a survey released just last month by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 52% percent of respondents in the five new England states surveyed, excluding Vermont, reported that they had gambled in some manner.
With over $150 million in "charitable gaming" alone conducted in our state each year, combined with lottery ticket sales in excess of $250 million and still millions more in simulcast wagering, we know that many Granite Staters gamble as a responsible form of entertainment.
Many travel out of state to Maine or Connecticut to do so, taking this and other discretionary revenue with them.
The intense competition for casinos in Massachusetts has led to 11 applications for only three licenses, making it clear that there is more than enough room in our region for a New Hampshire casino. Such a demand confirms that one high-end casino in New Hampshire can be both financially viable and economically predictable in terms of the revenue it will yield for the state.
SB 152 also develops a robust regulatory structure. I am confident the timeline included in this bill is realistic and workable; and will allow us to protect the public interest. The legislation contemplates the regulatory framework thoroughly, and establishes a Bureau of Administration and Enforcement within the Lottery Commission working in conjunction with a new State Police Gaming Unit and the NH Attorney General to provide the necessary resources and personnel to make sure that we get it right.
Most important to note - the doors of a casino will not open in New Hampshire before this comprehensive regulatory infrastructure is fully operational.
The bill facilitates a competitive-bidding and regulatory process through our Lottery Commission headed by an Executive Director who counts years of experience as a criminal prosecutor on his resume, and currently serves as the Chairman of the Multistate Lottery Association's Security and Integrity Committee.
Our Lottery Commission is well-equipped to oversee a casino in our New Hampshire. The Commission already utilizes central computer system technology, not unlike that used to regulate video slots, that oversees more than 1,250 lottery terminals across our state today.
With over $5 billion in total sales since its inception in 1964, and more than $1.5 billion contributed to the Education Trust, the NH Lottery Commission is well versed in making gambling in New Hampshire work to benefit us all.
SB 152 also protects our charities engaging in charitable gambling by holding them harmless. A provision authored by Senator Jim Rausch offers assurance to New Hampshire charities that if they engage in charitable gambling - and they suffer a loss in revenue as a result of the casino - that loss will be made up by the casino. We recognize the value that New Hampshire's many charitable organizations add to our quality of life here. This is a recognition that Massachusetts casinos will not protect.
Throughout this debate the notion of "social costs" will no doubt be examined. In the last ten years, eight states have implemented some form of expanded gambling. They have simply not seen the scope of costs that some opponents in this debate are suggesting.
Some of the arguments you will hear today echo those made 50 years ago, when New Hampshire became the first state in the nation to implement a lottery. Opponents then warned that we would become the new Las Vegas. Fifty years later we are the safest state in the nation; the most livable state; and the best state to raise a child.
We must maintain those distinctions - which means we must be able to invest in the basic services we need to keep our economy and our families strong. I would ask you to consider another measure of social costs.
What are the social costs to New Hampshire students faced with ever-increasing tuition to our public colleges and universities? Or to the businesses that see their future workforce leaving the state? What are the social costs to our families of underfunding our mental health system? What are the social costs to our communities and public safety of not funding our Children In Need of Services (CHINS) program or our drug task force, or hour-long response times for State police in some regions of our state? What are the social costs to all of us if our economy falls behind?
I know that expanded gambling has been an on-going and difficult debate in New Hampshire. However, I ask those who have opposed such an effort in the past to consider the realities. We can no longer pretend that gambling isn't coming to our communities. It is already here.
Failure to act to develop our own plan will cost our state dearly, with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies concluding that we will lose $75 million a year to Massachusetts in rooms & meals, lottery and social costs if we do nothing.
We cannot allow Massachusetts to capture the revenue from New Hampshire's residents while our communities bear the costs, without the benefits. Across New Hampshire, our citizens have made it clear that a high-end casino is their preferred way to increase state support for our priorities.
The most recent poll from the UNH Survey Center released just last Friday shows support for a New Hampshire casino at an all-time high with nearly two-thirds of NH residents in favor. This support transcends party affiliation and the nature of the questions asked almost identically represent the proposal offered in SB 152.
With intense competition from Massachusetts looming, the time to move forward is now to benefit New Hampshire while maintaining our brand as a safe, family-friendly state with a vibrant outdoor economy. As we have proven before, we can do this the New Hampshire way.
I thank the bipartisan sponsors from both the House and Senate for their sponsorship of SB 152 and their hard work to find bipartisan solutions to address our state's priorities. I look forward to working with members of the House and Senate to finalize the bill in a manner that addresses concerns, protects what is special about New Hampshire, and invests in our priorities so that we can ensure a more innovative future.