For the Nov. 2 Nashua municipal election, please don’t forget to turn over your ballot
It’s almost impossible these days to get into a conversation that doesn’t involve local politics, and with Nashua holding municipal elections in just 2 weeks on November 2nd, it’s easy to see why. This is, of course, our first election since the pandemic began in early 2020, so there are naturally many candidates with differing views about how government should operate. How big or how small. How hands off or how intrusive. And there are MANY candidates running for office. For example, if you happen to live in Ward 9, you will have a ballot of seven Alderman-at-Large Candidates (you can only choose 3), 11 Board of Education Candidates (you can only choose 4), as well as contested Ward Alderman, Public Works, and Fire Commission races. In fact, there are a whopping 32 candidates running for office! Even more interesting, perhaps, is the back side of the ballot where you will find Questions 1 and 2. Question number 2 is the much debated and highly contentious issue of whether the approach to selecting Nashua’s Police Commission will be changed. This has been positioned as a local control versus commission independence issue, and the opinions are deep and loud, pitting city leaders against each other.
And then there’s question one. Now, perhaps you have heard the song Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie? In my family, it’s basically our National Anthem of Thanksgiving. At one point in the song, after rambling on and on about littering, getting arrested, having a huge feast, etcetera, Arlo says, “But that’s not what this song is about. I want to talk about the draft.”
So, it is with question one. There’s a LOT of stuff on this ballot, and then there’s this one little line: “Shall the City of Nashua allow the operation of sports book retail locations within the City of Nashua. Yes or No.” Well, let me tell you as a local nonprofit leader, this question is way more important to us than the 18 words of space it takes up on the back of your ballot!
The reason why this question is important is that revenues from Charitable Gaming have become a critical source of funding for local nonprofits. You might not be aware of this, but every time you go to one of our Charitable Casinos like the River, the Lucky Moose, or Boston Billiards, and place a wager at the blackjack table (or roulette, or craps, etc.) that 35% of the proceeds to the house go to charity. Each year this activity has the effect of pumping $2 million or more into our local nonprofits. I personally know of nonprofits which receive annually as much as $65 or $70 thousand from these proceeds. In fact, this source of revenue locally has become one of the largest sources of nonprofit revenue, and as a result, ends up doing a lot of good. These funds help organizations I know of to feed, clothe, and house people who are low income and homeless. It helps to get murals painted downtown. It helps to provide supports to seniors. It supports folks in end-of-life hospice care. It helps to give kids scholarships to camp and after school programs. In fact, virtually every facet of social services is touched by these funds. And even more so, since organizations like the Rotary Club and the United Way have received funds which they in turn combine with other funds to make grants in the community.
Almost as important as the amount of revenue generated by charitable gaming is that the fundings’ use is unrestricted. You might know that many grants come with lots of strings attached and cannot be used for operational purposes like paying the building mortgage or administration. The funds received by nonprofits from gaming can be used in any way deemed necessary by the nonprofit to sustain its operations, which make these dollars even more important.
To be very clear: the question on your ballot will not directly put more dollars into charity. If Nashua approves a sports book operation (which is legal online in the state anyway!), it means that more likely than not one of our charitable gaming operators will add this business to their mix of offerings. This will have the effect of making them more attractive venues to their customers. If a place like the Lucky Moose or Boston Billiards has more to offer and can attract more customers, those customers will also eat and drink while there doing sports book betting. And invariably they will wander over and play a few hands of blackjack or take a spin of the roulette wheel, and THAT will benefit charity. Coincidentally, it will also generate rooms and meals revenue, as well as local jobs. And with Nashua being a border community, you can bet (pun intended) that a sizable chunk of the customers and dollars will be coming from our neighbors to the south. Now, to me, since it’s already legal to do sports book betting elsewhere in the state, and since it’s legal to do so online everywhere in the state, there is very little downside to this expansion in Nashua, and a nice potential upside for our charities which continue to do a lot of incredible work and surely need the financial support. So, think about it, and since you will no doubt be voting anyway – due to the huge number of candidates and other issues – and decide if you think the benefits of allowing sports book betting don’t speak for themselves.
And no matter what you decide, be sure to vote on November 2nd, because GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE LIVE UNITED.
Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.