By Lynne Snierson
The New Hampshire Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 4-1 on Jan. 28 to recommend passage of a bill that would allow the state to authorize two casinos. But the bill will be tabled while the House of Representatives considers any expansion of gambling.
Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem), who represents the district where Rockingham Park is located, said SB366 will be set aside until it is determined what action the House will take. Several different gambling bills are expected to be introduced in the lower body this session.
Nevertheless, the House of Representatives has a history of killing every piece of legislation to expand gambling in the Granite State. No hearing dates have yet been set for any of the House bills.
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has been an ardent supporter of one high-end, destination resort casino to be situated in the state's southern tier in order to keep millions of dollars in revenue from flowing across the border into Massachusetts, which is in the process of licensing three high-end casino projects and one stand-alone slots parlor.
Sen. Lou D'Allesandro (D-Manchester) sponsored the casino bill that passed in the Senate 18-6 last year before the House defeated it by 35 votes in May. He also sponsored SB 366 this year, which calls for two casinos to be located at least 30 miles apart.
D'Allesandro, a longtime backer of expanded gambling, said he added the second casino into this year's legislation because of complaints that the 2013 bill would have created a monopoly for one casino developer/operator. Moreover, critics felt that last year's bill was designed to favor Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, which holds the option to purchase Rockingham Park should expanded gambling be legalized, as the potential licensee.
SB366 calls for 3,500 slots and 160 table games at the category 1 casino and 1,500 slots and 180 table games at the category 2 facility. Last year's bill included 5,000 slots and 150 table games at a single casino.
The fees and tax rates also have changed in the 2014 bill, which includes recommendations from the newly-created New Hampshire Gambling Regulatory Oversight Authority.
Last year's bill required a $500,000 non-refundable application fee and an $80 million license fee for the casino. The current version triples the application fee to $1.5 million while the license fee remains the same for the larger casino and there would be a non-refundable application fee of $750,000 and a license fee of $40 million for the smaller casino.
Table games would be taxed at 14% and slots at 30%, which is an increase of 5% from last year's bill. Revenues generated from the casinos would still be used for improvements to roads and bridges, higher education, and economic development.
Estimates are that if legalized, the two casinos would generate $456 million from slots and $193 million from table games in the first full year of operation, which would not be until 2018.
Despite Senators Morse and D'Allesandro calling the bill a job creator and economic stimulus for the state, strong and well-organized opposition to the expansion of gambling remains in some quarters.
Following the defeat of casino legislation last May, the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling and Casino Free New Hampshire teamed together to step up their efforts. The new alliance argues that social costs outweigh any revenue gains and that the New England market will be oversaturated once the three destination resort casinos and one slots parlor come on line in Massachusetts.
While Millennium Gaming has stated repeatedly that the return of live racing is part of the revitalization of Rockingham Park should a casino be legalized and it wins the bid for the license, SB366 does not include any provisions for live racing or breeding or for horsemen.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, Mohegan Sun has partnered with Suffolk Downs and is competing with Wynn Resorts for the sole casino license to be awarded for the Greater Boston area. Should Mohegan Sun prove successful and develop a $1.3 billion project on the City of Revere side of the racetrack, Suffolk Downs would be the landlord and the casino titan would own and operate the gaming.
Both Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun have pledged to continue live racing for a minimum of 15 years if they win the license. But track officials have said they cannot continue to sustain millions of dollars lost annually on live racing should Wynn prove successful.
First, voters in Revere must approve the Mohegan Sun proposal and a referendum is scheduled for Feb 25. No matter the outcome, Suffolk Downs officials said they plan to host a live meet in 2014.
By Lynne Snierson