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Slots in New Hampshire are becoming a battleground

One of the more exciting features of the latest recession has been the collapse of tax revenue flowing into the coffers of the individual US states. Sales are down so there's less tax take there. Property values have crashed through the floor so, where tax is a percentage of valuation, the tax take has fallen - with so many properties foreclosed and families unemployed, payment of the tax has been difficult to enforce. People have been earning less and businesses have made less profit so, again, less income tax. Put everything together and many states are effectively bankrupt, their bonds reduced to junk status by the credit rating agencies. Yet there is no political will to really grasp the nettle of tax increases. If the electorate want the same level of services from the state, they have to pay for them. If they genuinely will not pay, they must be prepared to accept real cuts in the quality of the services. Perhaps this recession will finally break through the stubborn refusal to pay a larger percentage of income as tax. While we wait for this revolution, individual states are playing around the margins to save a few dollars here, and raise a few dollars there. Their theory is that federal government will not allow them to fail. Like AIG, many of the states are "too big". So bail-out money will save them from having to make the hard decisions.

This has not prevented some states from getting creative. In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch has a new policy. To help bridge the gap between solvency and insolvency, he's proposing to legalize online gambling. The detail of the plan is to be announced soon, but it's already controversial. Ignoring the problems created by the federal law clamp-down on the transfer of funds for gambling purposes, the Governor has been caught in a classic flip-flop. Not so long ago, the lawmakers who represent the real-world casino interests proposed a bill to licence some 17,000 slots and table games. The recession was not yet in its full glory and the hole in the budget was not today's gaping chasm. The Governor decided to veto the bill.

He gave two reasons. The first a simple calculation that there were already a significant number of machines in the state and licensing more was unlikely to produce a real increase in revenue. It would only share out the same money among more machines. But it's the second reason that has landed him in trouble. He said the bill would lead to an increase in gambling. Whether he was concerned at the rising level of addiction, the risk of more young people being tempted into gambling or he had some moral objections is not clear. The bill died. The new proposal to legalize online gambling is likely to make gambling more accessible. If people have to travel to specific locations, their behavior can be more closely monitored and controlled. The age of players can be verified. Operators can stop someone when they have obviously lost too much. Allowing gambling from PCs, lap and palm top machines, and Blackberrys is opening the flood gates. Playing online slots, people can burn through a lot of money very quickly without anyone to stop them. The Governor can't have it both ways. If proliferating gambling is a bad thing, legalizing online gambling is a bad thing. While he decides how to answer, we can all have fun playing slots wherever we find them.

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