New Hampshire Casino Supporters Lobby House

The New Hampshire House for the second time this year is considering a bill to authorize gaming in the state; this time two casinos, rather than the one that it voted down last month. Gaming supporters are lobbying lawmakers to pass the bill.

The second attempt this year to pass a casino bill in the New Hampshire House that would distribute million to towns and cities has drawn a full court press from supporters of two casinos.

The House Ways and Means Committee last week heard testimony from supporters, including the indefatigable promoter of gaming legislation in the Senate, Lou D’Allesdrano, who told lawmakers, “I don’t want to go into an enormous diatribe. You’ve heard it over and over again. What I’m saying to you is this piece of legislation benefits all of the people in the state of New Hampshire. As a public official, that’s my goal – to produce something that has benefit for everyone.”

That same committee killed a one-casino bill last month. However, the senator, who has been at the forefront of such legislation for 15 years, is not yet ready to give up. He is selling the bill as a way for the state to bring in more money and to give taxpayers property tax relief.

The Senate bill, passed by a vote of 15-9, would authorize 5,000 slots and 240 gaming tables at two casinos, with one casino have 3,500 slots and a smaller one with 1,500. The larger casino would have 160 gaming tables with 80 allocated for the smaller one.

The bill projects $168 million in revenue from taxes and $125 million in one-time license fees. Table games would be taxed at 14 percent and slots at 30 percent.

The bill would also earmark $25 million in revenue sharing to be divided among the state’s municipalities, although 45 percent of the total would be set aside from an upgrade of roads and highways. The revenue-sharing provision has prompted some towns to pass resolutions urging the House to pass the bill as a way to prevent them from downsizing. The state cut revenue-sharing funds in 2010.

The bill also proposes a regulatory system for casinos, something that bills introduced before this year lacked.

However Senate President Chuck Morse says he is willing to compromise on the details if the House passes some version of the bill.

One gaming skeptic, Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, worries that the state would be creating a monopoly, and that more of the profits should be collected by the state. He would prefer at least three casinos to address the “monopoly” concern.

Casino Free New Hampshire, which opposes the bill, says that the fact that the bill includes two casinos now proves what they have said consistently, that if you build one casino, more will follow.

Spokesman Steve Duprey also recently claimed that the casinos would “cannibalize existing businesses,” create crime and encourage addiction. 

Several parties have expressed interest in bidding for a license if the bill passes, including New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, whose general manager, Jerry Gappens, last week told the Nashua Telegraph, “As any good business, we’ve got to look at additional revenue sources.”

In addition, MillenniumGaming has an option to buy Rockingham Park racetrack in Salem. It has previously released details of a proposal to build a $600 million destination resort there if it is able to obtain a gaming license. The casino would generate about 3,000 building and gaming jobs, the company says.

The Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce has asked the House committee to approve of the bill and the Board of Selectmen also supports it. The town’s voters passed a referendum last year to support a casino at the racetrack.

In a letter sent to every member of the House, the Chamber said, The Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce views the potential increase in economic development, the creation of permanent and contract jobs, and the definitive increase in revenue stream to our state as a result of expanded gaming highly beneficial.”

However, Governor Maggie Hassan, who has energetically pushed a single casino, is not so keen only more than one. She claims, however, that the state must do something to prevent gambling money from being siphoned off by Massachusetts when it builds its three casino resorts and one slots parlor.