By Lynne Snierson
The New Hampshire House of Representatives said no dice to casino gambling again May 7, handing supporters their third defeat in two months and dashing hopes that live Thoroughbred racing might return to Rockingham Park.
The House voted 192-172 not to reconsider an earlier 173-172 vote to kill Senate legislation that would have authorized two casinos, a large one in the southern tier of the state and a smaller facility in the economically depressed North Country. The two casinos would have shared 5,000 slot machines and 240 table games, and the state would have received upfront one-time license fees of $80 million for the large facility and $40 for the smaller one.
The increased margin against passage was attributed to a huge turnout of the representatives, with foes of expanded gambling rallying 19 more votes but supporters unable to pick up even one additional vote.
Nonetheless, a subsequent House vote to put the final nail into the coffin of the casino question before the legislature adjourns June 5 failed, 183-179. That means the issue could come back to the House as an amendment on another Senate bill, but that is considered unlikely.
In March, the Senate passed the legislation by an overwhelming margin, but the full House has defeated every bill to expand gambling in modern times.
In 2007 Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas purchased an option to buy Rockingham Park should casino gambling be legalized in New Hampshire. Millennium officials have maintained that they would like to bring back live racing as part of the revitalization plans for the 108-year-old racetrack should they win the competitive bidding process for the larger casino license, but it is premature to discuss any plans for racing.
Ed Callahan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park, was unavailable and Millennium officials declined to comment after the vote May 7.
Rockingham Park last hosted a Thoroughbred meet in 2002 before switching to harness racing in 2003. The track has not offered live Standardbred racing since the conclusion of the 2009 meet but remains open for simulcasts and charitable gaming.
In 2009 the state legislature passed a bill that racetracks are no longer required to host a live meet in order to offer full-card simulcasts, and the regulation of live racing was defunded.