May 12 - House Refuses to Reconsider Casino Bill

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News May 12, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

House Refuses To Reconsider Casino Bill

New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives has yet again declined to permit casino gambling in the Granite State.

On May 7 by a decisive 192-172 roll call vote, the House refused to reconsider its earlier narrow rejection of Senate Bill 366, which would have authorized two high-end casinos in New Hampshire, a bill earlier passed by the New Hampshire Senate and whose prime sponsor is Manchester Sen. Lou DʼAllesandro. Refusal to reconsider came after a brief 30-minute debate on a reconsideration motion by Andover Rep. Mario Ratzki, who had initially voted to reject the bill at the April 30 House meeting. Rep. Ratzki said that he had moved reconsideration in order to propose an amendment to the bill authorizing just one casino and an amendment in keeping with his 2012 campaign pledge to his constituents to only support legislation authorizing one casino in our state.

However, Rep. Ratzki and other representatives, who had planned to offer at least 11 other amendments to Senate Bill 366, did not get their opportunity to do so. Instead, 20 more representatives showed up at the May 7 meeting than were present on April 30, most of whom were apparently against casinos. Furthermore, a few representatives who had voted for the bill on April 30 actually changed their minds and voted against it on May 7, according to my examination of the roll call. The additional anti-casino representatives, plus the few flip-floppers, were enough to produce the decisive rejection. I think that my fellow representatives, who voted “no” on reconsideration simply didnʼt want to listen again to what appeared to be several hours of debate on the measure and its proposed amendments. In other words, they bought the arguments of opponents like Hooksett Rep. David Hess that with the previous defeats of Senate Bill 366 and two other similar measures, that the issue of casino gambling had been debated enough by the House during the 2013-2014 term.

I believe that this likely reason for rejecting Senate Bill 366 by 192 of my House colleagues was unfortunate. Now, I would have voted against many of Senate Bill 366ʼs amendments, especially the more non-germane ones like marijuana decriminalization. But I voted for the billʼs reconsideration, and I would have voted for some of the proposed amendments which would have strengthened it, in my opinion. As I wrote in last weekʼs column, I believe it would have created some new jobs for New Hampshire, brought in additional revenue for our state budget, and designated more state aid in the form of revenue sharing to financially-strapped communities like Claremont. 

Frankly, I donʼt buy the arguments of opponents that a few high-end casinos would create more gambling addicts, increase crime, and destroy New Hampshireʼs good quality of life. We have gambling now in the form of the New Hampshire Lottery, which has been operating for 50 years without scandal. Many of our stateʼs charities periodically conduct Las Vegas or Monte Carlo nights, temporary gambling events that many citizens enjoy. Other citizens travel to such states as Connecticut, New Jersey, or Nevada to gamble for a few hours or days. Still others, according to my informed sources, gamble on illegal slot machines discretely found in many of our stateʼs social clubs. 

Yet despite all this large amount of gambling in New Hampshire, a voluntary activity in which I donʼt usually participate, our state continues to maintain high national rankings. High national rankings in such areas as the safest state from violent crimes, best state to raise a family, and healthiest state in the United States.

Finally, one of the my other reasons for supporting Senate Bill 366 was that one of the billʼs provisions would have designated some of the casino revenues to fund a gambling addiction treatment program within the state budget that would attempt to deal not only with casino addictions but other forms of gambling addictions. Such addictions as those resulting from lottery tickets, poker games, sports betting, and even on-line gambling. As of today, New Hampshireʼs budget does not include any funds for gambling addiction treatment programs, and I believe the state ought to provide such treatment programs for the few gambling addicts that we have now and will continue to have if casinos are made legal.

Switching to other actions, the House on May 7 adopted Senate Bill 371, which would establish a senior citizens bills of rights. The bill was adopted by a 241-106 roll call vote after a majority of the House Health, Human Services, & Elderly Affairs Committee gave it an Ought to Pass recommendation. Lebanon Rep. Laurie Harding, who wrote the Health Committeeʼs positive recommendation, stated that the legislation would require any elderly housing not currently licensed under RSA (Revised Statutes Annotated) 151, the Health Facilities Law, to post a senior citizens bill of rights. Furthermore, Rep. Harding declared that the bill would mandate that the bill of rights be posted in a prominent area of the elderly housing. Additionally, building managers must provide such housing residents a copy of the bill of rights at the time an initial lease is executed, a document that must include com- plaint procedures as well as provisions to protect individualsʼ dignity and privacy, along with due process rights. Finally, Rep. Harding said that the New Hampshire Chapter of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has offered to become involved in public education about the bill, if it becomes law. 

Senate Bill 371 now proceeds to Gov. Maggie Hassan for her consideration. Hampton Sen. Nancy Stiles is the legislationʼs prime sponsor.

For readersʼ information, I did vote for Senate Bill 371 because I believe it is a worthwhile measure to help protect senior citizens.