Looking for Money (in all the wrong places)

A guest blog entry from Jay Smith, MD, MPH - Policy Committee C0-Chair

So we (and many, many others) thought we didn't need to get concerned much about casino gambling this year.  The Governor had switched to Keno in looking for gambling revenue.  Keno, which may be more addictive than the lottery that we already have, is already available to a lot of NH folks just a bit across the border in Massachusetts.  The Senate bill, SB 113 was a two-casino bill and it was known that the Governor opposed that.  Our public policy committee wasn't even tracking the Senate bill since there was so much else to focus on.  Then that bill was sent to the House where we thought it would die, but an amendment (to start with just one casino and assess how that is doing before licensing a second) changed a vote in committee so now it goes to the House floor with an Ought To Pass (OTP) recommendation.  If it passes, it has to go back to the House finance committee for its input before going back to the floor again.  If it finally passes as amended, the Senate has to agree to it and the Governor has to sign it, but those look fairly likely so the big fight will be in the House.

People who have vital programs at risk may decide that we just need the revenue.  But, like taking money from the Renewable Energy Fund and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, there are consequences that will be felt elsewhere than this biennium's state budget.  Most research shows swift increases in problem gamblers when casinos are nearby1.  Health consequences of the ruinous financial results are also clear2.  And increased gambling goes hand-in-hand with higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse and family disruption, including spousal abuse and suicideamong a litany of familiar social ills.

Perhaps the House will feel it can use funds from casinos to meet the crying need for increased prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse (moneys that they cut from the Governor's budget).  But, as with tobacco settlement funds, there is never enough of the revenue put towards prevention and treatment and this ignores the human costs for the increased number of people who are preyed upon for that revenue and whose lives end up being ever more desperate from the losses that mount up as they wishfully think that anouther round of gambling will ease the diffiulties that they already have in their lives.

NHPHA does not have a policy statement detailing an evidence-based position on gambling.  Given that expanded gambling comes up every time New Hampshire faces budget challenges, maybe it is time forus to write and adopt one.

1 http://www.ajgiph.com/content/pdf/2195-3007-3-2.pdf
2 http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Real-Cost-of-a-Casino_Wellesley-Institute_2013.pdf

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