New Hampshire Governor Doubles Down on Casino

A year after her first efforts to bring a casino to New Hampshire failed, Governor Maggie Hassan (l.) isn’t afraid to try again. The Senate has passed a casino bill, but as usual, the House is the big hurdle.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan wasn’t backing down from last year’s commitment to a single, highly regulated casino for the Granite State when she delivered her first State of the State address February 6, despite having seen that idea go down in defeat in the House last year.

Instead, she doubled down, declaring that without a casino the state would be surrendering $75 million to neighboring Massachusetts, which is committed to building four casinos of its own.

“The casino will create jobs, generate revenue, and boost out economy,” said Hassan speaking to a joint session of the legislature. “Let’s take this opportunity to invest in New Hampshire’s possibilities. I urge you to vote in favor of this bill.”

In a later interview with NHPR the governor added, “We are going to have casinos right over our border. People already go to casinos in Connecticut and Maine. With casinos right over the border in Massachusetts, they’re going to go there. We’re going to get all the problems but we’re not going to get any of the revenue to address them properly.”

The governor favors a “high end” facility that will attract vacationers and will have dining and other attractions. She insists that it should be located in a community that wants it.

Last year at this time, when the newly elected governor was beginning her term, she was so confident of passing a casino bill (or else wanted to pressure the legislature) that she included $80 million from the casino gaming license fee in that year’s budget, even though gambling at that point was illegal in the state.

The Senate went along enthusiastically but the House continued its long tradition of opposing such bills, defeating the Senate bill in May.

A bill similar to last year’s but beefed up with far more regulations that were recommended by the Gaming Oversight Authority appointed last year, has been introduced in the House. The House’s Ways and Means Committee began holding hearings on the bill on February 6.

At the same time the Senate is mulling a bill that would authorize two casinos, one for the southern part of the state, and the other for area closest to Canada. However, Senate President Chuck Morse doesn’t want the Senate to be the first chamber to act this time, preferring not to get burned twice in a row. The Senate voted last week to table the bill until the House acts.

Morse’s district includes Salem’s Rockingham Park, a now defunct racetrack that is a prime candidate for hosting a casino ever since Millennium Gaming bought an option to the facility. Millennium has committed to restoring thoroughbred racing at the track should it win a casino license.

The House bill would not require a casino, but would make one possible by allowing potential developers to bid for the right to a license. It would allow a single destination casino of from 2,000 to 5,000 slot machines and as many as 150 gaming tables.

The Lottery Commission has projected that two casinos with as many as 5,000 slots and 240 gaming tables between them would eventually generate $168 million in taxes and nearly half a billion dollars for the casino developers annually. The state would also collect a one time $125 million from licensing and application fees.

Typical of opponents is a comment from Steve Duprey, a business developer, quoted by WMUR, who said, “Casino gambling revenue is the crack cocaine or heroin of state funding. You become addicted. No state ever undoes a casino.”

Unlike Governor Hassan, Attorney General Joe Foster says a casino would attract crime and corruption and tarnish the state’s squeaky-clean image. “What other form of entertainment can you think of that takes 99 pages of legislation to properly and safely authorize?” said the AG last week, testifying before the House committee.

Senator Lou D’Allesandro, who has authored all of the previous Senate casino bills, wrote the Senate bill. He said he added a casino because of criticism last year that a single casino created a monopoly and that it was written with Rockingham Park in mind. He also crafted the bill to protect the existing Verizon Wireless Center, by not allowing a casino entertainment venue to have more than 1,500 seats. The Verizon Center has 10,000 seats.