New England tinkers with new forms of gambling

New England has long been a leader in the use of legalized gambling to replenish state coffers. Lotteries and other state-run gaming operations are common throughout the region.

But lottery revenue in some states has fallen in recent years. Faced with this slip in income, the promoters of legalized gambling in New England aren't taking chances. They're busily casting about for new ways to lure the public's dollar.

Connecticut officials, for example, are considering replacement of their decade-old weekly lottery with a scheme that allows participants to, in effect, bet against each other via computer.

Lotto, as it is called, would be similar to one of the most popular legalized gambling operations in neighboring New York State.

Meanwhile, a push is on to bring parimutuel off-track betting on horse and dog races to Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

One chamber of the New Hampshire Legislature has endorsed a measure to expand state-sponsored gambling in that direction. The proposed operation, patterned after those in several other states, including Connecticut, would yield New Hampshire some $3 million a year, say backers.

New Hampshire has also been weighing the pros and cons of casino gambling. Most recently, a proposal to rebuild the burned-out Rockingham race track fell through when the developer - Las Vegas-based MGM Grand Hotels Inc. - said it couldn't make a go of the project without a casino.

New Hampshire Gov. Hugh J. Gallen has said he is unalterably opposed to casinos because, in his view, they would cheapen the quality of life in his heavily tourism-dependent state.

Despite similar stiff political opposition elsewhere in New England, MGM Grand and other casino promoters seem determined to keep pushing, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

A Bay State proposal, which would permit two casinos - one in Hull on the coast near Boston and the other in Adams in the western part of the state - has strong support not only from pro-gambling interests but also from the labor union leaders, who see casino development as a source of jobs.

Prospects for passage of the controversial legislation this year, however, appear slim. A Connecticut measure to legalize casinos was rejected April 15.

The chances for legalized off-track betting in the state appear better, according to its supporters.

Unlike some of their counterparts in Masschusetts and New Hampshire, Maine's lawmakers show little enthusiasm for off-track betting.

Maine Gov. Joseph E. Brennan, in particular, has been cool toward efforts to expand legalized gambling.

In fact, 16 months ago he was ready to mount a drive to wipe out the Maine lottery, which was losing money at the time.

Since then, however, the operation has become more profitable, attributable, in part, to the elimination of the weekly lottery.

Vermont has also eliminated its weekly lottery, but the Legislature there recently passed a bill to extend indefinitely the state's daily game.

Whether Connecticut follows Maine and Vermont in getting rid of its weekly lottery could hinge on to what extent revenues from that operation pick up during the next few months, according to Edward Osswalt, chief of planning and research for the state division of special revenues.

State revenues generated by this gambling activity have dwindled $16.5 million in 1973 to $1.5 million last year. In contrast, the daily numbers games and the instant games combined produced $56.1 million for Connecticut coffers.

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