N.H. Senate Committee Backs Casinos

The New Hampshire Senate’s Ways and Means Committee has approved of a bill that would authorize two casinos in the Granite State, sponsored by state Senator Lou D’Allesandro (l.).

Although the New Hampshire Senate’s Ways and Means Committee has recommended approval of a bill that would authorize two casinos, the Senate President Chuck Morse said last week that the Senate would wait for the House to act before taking a vote on the measure.

Several times in the last few years, including last May, the Senate has passed a casino bill, only to see it defeated in the House.

This year, as in years past, state Senator Lou D’Allesandro sponsored the casino bill. The senator, who doesn’t gamble, argues that the state needs money to fund road infrastructure, colleges and economic development. Last year Governor Maggie Hassan, who ran on a platform that included gaming expansion, was a strong supporter of a casino bill, which would generate funds that could be used for those purposes. However, the governor only supported one, not two, casinos.

The state’s Lottery Commission estimates that two casinos with up to 5,000 slots and 240 gaming tables would generate about $168 million annually in taxes, $125 million in one-time fees, and nearly half a billion dollars for its operators. The machines would be taxed at a 30 percent rate with tables taxed at 14 percent. The bill calls for a larger casino, with 3,500 slots and a smaller one with 1,500 machines.

Opposition comes from the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and Casino Free New Hampshire, which both maintain that any fiscal gain would be overshadowed by social costs such as more crime and gambling addiction.

Also opposing the bill is the New Hampshire Police Chiefs Association, for much the same reasons.

This year’s bill is different from the 2013 bill in that it would authorize two, rather than one, casino. Last year’s bill was criticized as obviously targeting Rockingham Park racetrack in Salem as the location for the casino.

In a related development the House is considering a bill that would allow the Lottery Commission to install keno game machines in taverns and restaurants. This would raise an estimated $9 million the lottery estimates and might keep some residents from going to play at casinos in neighboring states.

Senator D’Allesandro calls keno “a foolish game,” and worries that allowing keno would hurt his bill’s chances of passing in the House. He told Sea Coast Online: “What it does is hinder our opportunity to put something in place that creates jobs and provides economic development to our communities.”

Supporters of keno say it is an entirely different thing from slot machines.