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Bob Odell
State Senator
District 8

March 9, 2009

Senator Odell is Chairman of  the Ways and Means Committee, and member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee;  Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight Board.

Senate District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

 

            Profiting from the old sins of gambling and drinking dominated last Tuesday’s six and a half hours of public hearings in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The issues are significant.  First is whether or not to modernize the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.  Secondly, should the state allow expanded gambling.  Both have short and long term implications for what New Hampshire will look like as a state in the years ahead.

             The New Hampshire Liquor Commission was created 75 years ago when prohibition was repealed.  Instead of going through private sector retailers, a number of states set up state control systems so that the state could manage the balance between customer desires and generating money for state government.  Today, our state is one of eighteen with state control systems.

             Sales last fiscal year ending on June 30, 2008 were over $466 million, operating expenses were $35 million leaving $146 million in profits for the state.  There are 77 state operated stores and three agency stores … grocery and convenience stores that sell hard liquor.  And the commission licenses bars and restaurants as well as beer and wine retailers.  The commission also enforces our alcohol beverage laws.

             Consumer interests as well as the opportunity to increase profits and be more a more efficient agency are behind Commission Chairman Mark Bodi’s request that the legislature pass the Liquor Commission Modernization Act 2009 (SB 181).  The legislation would do several things including making the commission an “enterprise agency” instead of general fund agency.  An enterprise agency can act quickly to meet market conditions and operating needs without government constraints.  State stores would be able to sell beverage related items like wine and gift bags, cork screws, gift boxes and the like.

             Very importantly, if the modernization bill is passed the commission will have flexibility to open new agency stores.  That means where there are low yielding state stores, the commission might close them and select a grocery store in each area to sell hard liquor along with the wine and beer they already sell.   There are many other items dealing with personnel, direct shipping of beverages, charity wine tasting, permission for wine auction sales and others that would modernize liquor commission operations.

             The bill goes to the Senate floor on Wednesday with a request from the committee for a couple of extra weeks to work on it to make some minor adjustments to benefit New Hampshire producers of vodka, hard cider and wine.  I sense Senators are likely to be favorable to making our liquor commission more effective and profitable while being more responsive to consumers.

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             Senator Lou D’Allseandro ( Manchester ) introduced his bill (SB 179) that would permit slot machines at the race tracks and two locations yet to be determined in the north country.  He has been pushing the same basic legislation for ten years and each session he comes up short for votes to pass his bill.  He is a tireless advocate, believes strongly that the economic impact from the renovation of facilities, especially at Rockingham Park , would be a big boost to the state.  Longer term, he believes his bill would create a revenue stream to help the state meet its annual budget.

            Senator D’Allesandro was not by himself.  With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, there were witnesses supporting the bill from Las Vegas , Maryland , Pennsylvania and other states all with a financial interest in the outcome.  And New Hampshire lobbyists were there aplenty, too.  Some suggest the slots legislation is a full employment act for lobbyists courtesy of the promoters.

            The opposition?  Most of law enforcement including the Attorney General share long histories of opposing the expansion of gambling and especially having thousands of slot machines in our state.  The machines are often referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling because of their addictiveness.  And groups like the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association have also opposed slot machines over the years.

            There was another “slots bill” (SB 169) introduced by Senator Ted Gatsas (Manchester) that would have slot machine facilities owned by the state and managed by a new gambling oversight commission.  His bill got little attention even though it was brought to the committee after we had heard how successfully the Liquor Commission has been running their alcoholic beverage monopoly for 75 years.

            Two days later, the D’Allesandro bill got a positive 3-2 vote (one anti gambling Senator was not there) while the Gatsas bill got no traction with a 5-0 negative vote.  The full Senate deals with both this week. 

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            With the pace of activity picking up as we move toward April 9 “crossover day,” it was good to take break early one morning so that Senators could read with two students from their district.   Read Across America is an annual event sponsored by the National Education Association and highlights the power of reading for students and their families.  It is held during the first week of March each year so we can celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  With Dr. Seuss hats for students and Senators, the recitation of the readers’ pledge and some other ceremonies completed, we read with our students.  The two students from District 8 were Dakota Avery and Jacob Merritt from the Richards School in Newport .  They were fine representatives of the district and both are extraordinarily skilled readers.

 

 

Bob Odell
State Senator
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951

Telephone:  603-271-6733
Email:  rpojr@aol.com

 

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