Expanding gambling in New Hampshire to include slot machines and full-scale casinos would generate more revenue and jobs -- and more problem gamblers, according to a commission created to study the issue.
The 15-member Gaming Study Commission released a report Thursday on its study of models for expanding gambling in the state and the impact that would have on New Hampshire's quality of life. The Legislature this year has been debating several proposals to legalize video slot machines as it deals with a budget shortfall.
The commission, created by Gov. John Lynch last year, said it was not asked to support or oppose expansion. "However, if policy makers do decide to expand legalized gaming, what matters is how carefully they do it -- not how quickly," the report said.
Lynch said he looked forward to reviewing the report. Commission members included lawmakers and representatives from businesses, tourism groups, law enforcement and social service agencies.
Licensing fees and new taxes from expanded gambling would help create revenue, short-term construction jobs and gaming jobs, the report said. The biggest economic benefit would be seen in gaming centers built along New Hampshire's border with Massachusetts, which is also considering expanded gambling, it said.
But expanded gambling in New Hampshire overall would add costs in the treatment of gambling addicts, and it likely would reduce funds to charities that depend on gambling revenue to cover program costs, the commission said.
The report noted that if Massachusetts went ahead with its gambling proposals and New Hampshire didn't, the cost to New Hampshire would amount to $68.5 million in both lost revenue and costs associated with treating gambling addiction. However, simply being first doesn't necessarily recapture the gambling market, and any race to be first or biggest could increase the risk that the overall gambling market would become saturated, the report said.
New Hampshire currently allows lottery games, which drew $262 million in sales in 2008. The state generated another $128 million from charitable gambling that year, such as poker events and bingo. And it took in over $224 million in pari-mutuel wagering at the state's race tracks. The report noted that New Hampshire residents also spend about $80 million annually at casinos in Connecticut.
The report said given the gambling that already occurs across New Hampshire, the state should support an independent review of its current regulations to determine their effectiveness and the state's capacity to handle an expansion "to assure that the interests of the state and its citizens are being protected now."
The commission said it could not obtain enough data on whether expanded gambling would affect the state's image and tourism.