By Lynne Snierson
The New Hampshire House of Representatives will take up expanded gambling when a full vote on HB593 comes to the floor Feb. 8 and passage could bring the return of live Thoroughbred racing one step closer. Rockingham Park, which has not held a live Thoroughbred meet since 2002, is considered the front-runner to be awarded a casino license if New Hampshire becomes the 42nd state to expand gambling.
Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas holds an option to buy the track if expanded gambling is legalized and has planned a $450 million renovation of the facility that held its first live meet in 1906 and is one of the oldest Thoroughbred tracks in the country.
“Millennium believes a revitalized Rockingham Park includes bringing back the Thoroughbreds. It is what they and the community wants,” said Millenium spokesman Rich Killion.
There has not been live horse racing of any breed in New Hampshire since 2009.
For the past two decades, the House has consistently killed every bill advanced but now competition from neighboring Massachusetts is said to have changed the hearts and minds of some legislators who were staunchly opposed.
In the fall of 2011, Massachusetts legalized expanded gambling and is now authorized to construct three destination resort casinos and one stand alone slots parlor. According to a study recently released by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy, the Granite State will see a revenue increase of $114 to $175 million if gambling is expanded but would absorb 75% of the private and social costs if it did nothing and its residents crossed the border to gamble in Massachusetts. Over 2,000 jobs are expected to be created by the casinos.
The State Lottery Commission has predicted that its sales would decline by 5% to 7 % if New Hampshire does not allow casinos and its residents gamble out of state.
HB593, which would allow up to two full casinos in the state, was recommended for passage 14-7 by the Ways and Means Committee last year. That vote is significant and historic because it was the first time a gambling bill received positive support. Nonetheless, Gov.John Lynch (D) has promised to veto any expanded gambling legislation that comes to his desk and there would need to be enough votes in both the House and Senate to override that action. The four-time governor is retiring at the end of this term.
The New Hampshire Senate has delayed action on its version of an expanded gambling bill as it monitors what happens with HB593.