New Hampshire Legislators Consider Casinos—Again

Legislators in New Hampshire are considering several expanded gambling bills in the session that just began, including Keno and poker, plus bills allowing one or more casinos, with or without charitable gambling. A casino bill, supported by Governor Maggie Hassan (l.), passed the Senate but failed in the House last year.

New Hampshire Legislators Consider Casinos—Again

The New Hampshire legislature convened last week with new expanded gambling bills under consideration, including HB 485, which would allow electronic Keno games in bars, and restaurants that serve alcohol. The House Ways and Means Committee endorsed the bill 14-5 this fall. The game would be offered from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for players age 18 and up. New Hampshire Lottery officials estimate with Keno games at 250 sites, annual sales could reach more than million by 2015, generating million a year for the state’s schools.

The bill’s lead sponsor, State Rep. Keith Murphy, said unlike casino gambling, which could hurt local bar and restaurant owners, Keno mostly would help small businesses by giving patrons an incentive to stay and spend more on food and drinks. Noted Murphy, who owns a bar in Manchester, “It’s not something we want at Chuck E. Cheese. But if consenting adults, out having a drink, find pleasure in this activity, they should be able to do it.”

Keno opponents include state Rep. Mary Cooney, who said, ‘‘In the search for easy money, there is always a cost. Since there is no option for towns or cities to prohibit Keno in their communities, Keno could be located in any venue which serves alcohol.’’ Cooney added gambling will damage New Hampshire’s image.

Also, the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously endorsed a bill legalizing home poker games as long as no admission fee is charged, no profit or rake is taken, odds don’t favor any player, the games are not advertised and there is no house ‘‘bank.’’

In addition, the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority offered a bill that would allow a single casino through a competitive bidding process. The measure also would tax table-game revenue at 18 percent and slots at 35 percent. Lead sponsor state Rep. Richard Ames, said, “My hope is that as we have this debate, people will really try to understand and separate truth from falsehood. There will still be people who don’t like casinos or gambling. That is a very reasonable position. But let’s have an honest discussion.”

The bill differs from the one Governor Maggie Hassan supported last year, which passed the Senate and failed by a close margin in the House. It allows the legislature to allocate casino proceeds and requires the casino to provide space and funds for problem-gambling treatment, but does not require space for charitable gambling. In addition, the measure includes detailed regulations based on a four-month economic impact study. Hassan’s spokesman said she approves the bill. “As our state stands to lose an estimated $75 million per year to Massachusetts casinos, the governor continues to believe that developing New Hampshire’s own plan for a casino is the right path forward in order to create jobs, boost our economy and generate revenue to invest in critical priorities,” he said.

The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority also proposed a bill that would overhaul regulations for charitable gaming, which generated $13.6 million for about 500 charities in 2012.

Longtime casino gambling supporter, state Senator Lou D’Allesandro said he is readying a bill that would license two casinos, one twice as large as the other, which would include charitable gambling space and be located 30 miles apart. Table game would be taxed at 14 percent, slots at 31 percent; those funds would be used for the state’s 10-year highway plan, higher education, economic development and addiction treatment.

State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt said he will reintroduce a bill legalizing slot machines in up to six locations; four would have 600 machines and two would have 1,300. The machines would be leased and managed by the state, which would collect 73 percent of the net machine income for the general fund. The locations would not include charitable gaming.

State Reps. Dan Sullivan and Frank Sapareto are co-sponsoring a bill to allow privately owned and managed slot machines in at least six locations with no more than 250 machines at each one. The bill would require charitable gaming space at each location. Slots would be taxed at 55 percent with proceeds toward the general fund.

Regarding the authority’s and D’Allesandro’s casino bills, State Rep. Pat Long said, “I believe the House can pass it.  think it will be close, but I believe the House can pass it.”

Opponents to the casino legislation, Casino Free New Hampshire and the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, recently held a news conference, to announce plans for anti-gambling activities. In addition, six of the eight full-time gaming parlors that host charitable gambling are working together to fight threats to their business. Rick Newman of the River Card Room in Milford said the authority’s bill does not include space for charitable gaming and its provision requiring gaming parlor owners to spend up to $50,000 for a background check for a license would force several establishments to close.