- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

As Massachusetts prepares for the legalization of casinos, the state’s neighbor to the north, New Hampshire, is headed in the opposite direction.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said this week he will veto any gaming bill sent to his desk, and chided legislators for wanting to follow in the Bay State’s footsteps.

“We have been told we must expand gambling in New Hampshire now because Massachusetts is about to do it,” Mr. Lynch, a Democrat, said in a letter to lawmakers. “Taking our policy lead from Massachusetts is not something New Hampshire has traditionally done. We should not be driven by Massachusetts’ policy choices or Massachusetts’ schedule.”

Unlike Mr. Lynch, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has said he will sign the gaming bill, which cleared the state House and Senate on Wednesday after minor changes forced another round of voting.

The measure would allow three full casinos and a slots parlor in the state, with the location of each predetermined and written into the bill. The four sites are expected to generate about $300 million in annual revenue through taxes while also creating thousands of jobs.

Some in the state fiercely oppose the effort on moral grounds, citing the bankruptcies, divorces and drug and alcohol problems that sometimes accompany gambling.

Few dispute the fact that gambling can carry negative consequences, but in a time of economic turmoil, the dollars-and-cents argument has won out. Some lawmakers previously opposed to legalized gaming have changed their minds, and they have also grown tired of watching Massachusetts residents drive to Connecticut or elsewhere to play cards and slot machines, filling other states’ accounts with money that could remain in-state.

“The profit motive takes the day,” said Lia Nower, associate professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University. “People who want casinos will keep putting forth all of these economic arguments and point out the profits of surrounding states. Ultimately, you’ll say that we’re not keeping our people from gambling. We’re just making them travel.”

Despite the potential windfall for Massachusetts, Ms. Nower and other analysts believe that New England could eventually reach a tipping point where new casinos would no longer rake in the profits that supporters expect. Mr. Lynch has employed that argument in New Hampshire, and believes that a gaming industry in his state won’t increase the number of gamblers, but will instead draw from the existing pool.

Like many others, Mr. Lynch also believes the social ills that come with a thriving casino industry would have a detrimental effect on the “quality of life” in his state.

That argument helped defeat gaming expansion in Maine earlier this month. Voters rejected plans for a full casino and two “racinos,” casino/horse-racing hybrids. The state already has a slots parlor in Bangor and a full-blown casino under construction in Oxford, and that was apparently enough for the majority of voters.

Mr. Patrick is expected to sign the Massachusetts bill within the next 10 days, according to the Associated Press. Lawmakers in New Hampshire will likely pursue their own gaming plan, despite the veto threat by Mr. Lynch.