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Friday, April 26, 2013

Gambling opponents cite studies, real life experience as reason to kill bill

CONCORD – A Littleton man who once made $100,000 a year with five slot machines at his Oregon restaurant came out in strong opposition to a New Hampshire casino Thursday.

Mell Brooks said he was stunned that his 7-by-19-foot space in his bar generated so much money from what he described as 300 regular customers and 60 “core” patrons who often came when the place opened at 7 a.m. and would sometimes play until it closed at 2 in the morning. ...

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CONCORD – A Littleton man who once made $100,000 a year with five slot machines at his Oregon restaurant came out in strong opposition to a New Hampshire casino Thursday.

Mell Brooks said he was stunned that his 7-by-19-foot space in his bar generated so much money from what he described as 300 regular customers and 60 “core” patrons who often came when the place opened at 7 a.m. and would sometimes play until it closed at 2 in the morning.

“We cashed their paycheck. They wouldn’t have one dollar when they walked out the door,” Brooks told a House working group examining the social impact of a Senate-passed casino bill (SB 152).

While it only cost a quarter to play the slots, Brooks said many patrons would spend $20 at a time.

At the end of each day, Brooks said the stack of $20 bills inside was much larger than the piles of $1 and $5 that were played.

“We know what happens to problem gamblers,” Brooks said. “We have to rely upon you not to allow this in.

“We just don’t need it here. We can do other things besides have gambling in this state.”

Dr. Rachel Volberg is a leading epidemiologist and vice president of Gemini Research who has conducted extensive studies into the behavior of problem gamblers.

Volberg said research clearly concludes that slot machine use generates the highest number of gambling addicts, followed by those who play table games such as blackjack, and then sports betting and poker tournaments.

“What we know in terms of the relationships is that those forms of gambling that are continuous, that are faster and that pay back small amounts on a frequent basis are the most problematic,” Volberg said.

“They are most closely associated with the largest number of people reporting problems.”

Further, Volberg said those who live within a 10-mile radius of a casino are 10 times more likely to become addicted than those who live farther away.

Studies have concluded that about 2 percent of those who bet at casinos will become addicted, Volberg said, but over time, the prevalence of problem gamblers goes down once the novelty of playing at these venues for many wears off.

Strategies to reduce the number of those who become addicted, she said, would include making players set a limit on how much they will bet before they start gambling, limiting hours of operation and the use of alcohol while betting and preventing ATM machines from being on casino property.

“Our analysis of 202 studies confirms the existence of a relationship between availability of gambling and problem gambling but also highlights the complexities of that relationship,” Volberg concluded.

The bill OK’d by the Senate would have the winning developer pay a $80 million licensee fee and be able to have 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

The state would get 25 percent of net profit from the slots and 14 percent from gambling at the tables.

Estimates have varied greatly on how much this project would net on an ongoing basis for taxpayers.

State lottery officials peg the gain at $120 million a year while the independent New Hampshire Center for Policy Studies has a much lower estimate, more like $45 million annually once it has to compete with two Massachusetts casinos within an hour of the border.

Steve Norton, executive director of the NHCPP group, testified Thursday in his revenue analysis that found social costs for taxpayers and private business owners each year would equal the net profit for the state from a casino.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).