By Lynn Snierson
New Hampshire moved closer to the expansion of gambling when a House of Representatives committee advanced a bill calling for two casinos with a combined 10,000 slot machines and table games. Rockingham Park is considered a favorite to get a casino license should the legislation become law.
The Ways and Means Committee voted 14-7 Oct. 27 to recommend passage by the full House when the measure is brought forward in January 2012. The action is seen as a major step because in the past, similar bills have been passed by the Senate but killed in the House.
Rockingham Park, which last held a Thoroughbred meet in 2002, is perceived as the overwhelming favorite to win one of the two licenses if expanded gambling is allowed. Licenses would cost $50 million each and be granted two years apart.
Though there is no minimum investment required, Millennium Gaming, which owns The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in western Pennsylvania and holds the option to buy Rockingham should favorable legislation pass, has pledged to invest $450 million to build a casino and redevelop the property.
The return of live racing would be part of the plan.
“We’re very pleased that the committee looked favorably on the bill. It’s the first step in the House,” Rockingham president and general manager Ed Callahan said. “Now we have two months to work with the 400 members of the full House and try to show them the benefits of expanded gaming in New Hampshire. If we are fortunate enough to win the license, we look forward to returning both Thoroughbred and harness racing to Rockingham Park.”
Rockingham opened in 1906 with New England’s first Thoroughbred meet. The track held Standardbred racing in 2009 but hasn’t offered live racing the past two years.
Currently, Rockingham offers full-card Thoroughbred, harness and Greyhound simulcasts seven days per week and hosts charitable gaming, which includes poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, and bingo.
The passage of expanded gambling earlier this fall in neighboring Massachusetts is seen as the impetus behind the current action in the Granite State because it would keep revenue from crossing the border. Despite the latest developments, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who has consistently opposed the expansion of gambling, said he still has “serious concerns.”
Lynch, a four-term governor, will not seek re-election in 2012.