New Hampshire Casino Bill Progresses

The New Hampshire House has so far proven more hospitable than expected for a bill that would allow two casinos in the state. A committee of the House has moved the bill onto the floor. Governor Maggie Hassan (l.) says she would sign a bill permitting two casinos.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which has often been wrecking ball for gaming bills in the New Hampshire House, last week voted to move a bill that would allow for two casinos in the Granite State.

The vote was narrow, 11-10, but it approved a motion to add a “new non-tax revenue stream.” In New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state, few things are sweeter to the ear than the words, “non tax.”

SB 113 would authorize a small and large casino. The large casino with 3,500 slots would require a minimum investment of $450 million, with the smaller one of 1,500 slots needing a $125 million investment. The state would collect a total of $120 million in licensing fees to start and collect up to $130 million annually in taxes.

This would, says the senator, allow the state to begin revenue sharing with municipalities, something it suspended four years ago.

Opponents counter that 75 percent of the casino profits will go to out of state owners.

Rep. Norman Major, who chairs the committee, added, “There is no free money. It comes from people who lose their money.”

Other opponents claim that New Hampshire will be jumping aboard the gaming bus just as it wheezes to a halt in the face of a saturated market.

While Governor Maggie Hassan may not entirely agree that the market is saturated, she thinks that two casinos is one too many.

Last week she said, “I don’t think the market supports a second casino. I’ll have to understand what kind of provisions this bill has in terms of how a second casino might be established before I make a final decision.”

D’Allesandro responded, “There is ample justification for more than one,” he said. “We have plenty of time to look at the second one, but the second one should be there.”

Nonetheless, Hassan said she probably would sign the bill, as long as one casino is licensed before a second one is considered.

The bill establishes a gaming commission that would take under its wing the existing Lottery Commission and Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission.

Supporters, many of whom have pressed this issue for over a dozen years, see this as possibly the last year that New Hampshire could realistically authorize casinos before they will be preempted by what happens in neighboring Massachusetts.

As Rep. Joseph Lachance put it, “Whether it’s Salem or Gorham, I don’t care. It’s time. It’s the last chance dance.”

Opponents are not letting up on their efforts to pull off another defeat. “This is desperate attempt to get something for nothing,” declared Rep. Mary Cooney “There is a cost, there is pain.”

Each year the Senate has passed a bill, only to see it defeated in the House. In 2014 a casino bill was defeated in the House by one vote.

Senator Lou D’Allesandro, the champion of a casino bill for all these man years, hailed the latest step forward: “It’s a first step, but it’s a great first step.”