By Lynne Snierson
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan delivered her first State of the State address Feb. 6 and once again urged passage of a bill that would authorize a single high-end and highly-regulated destination resort casino in the southern tier of the state bordering Massachusetts.
Hassan, a Democrat who took office in January 2013, called for for the casino last year and included its $80 million license fee in her biennial budget even though expanded gambling had not been legalized in New Hampshire. A casino bill handily passed in the state Senate in 2013, but the House of Representatives defeated the measure last May.
Supporters contend that unless the Granite State moves forward with a casino, an estimated $75 million annually will flow over the border into Massachusetts, which will issue the license for a stand-alone slots parlor Feb. 28 and for the first two of three destination resort casinos in May.
"The casino will create jobs, generate revenue, and boost out economy," said Hassan, who delivered her address before a dual session of the legislature. "Let's take this opportunity to invest in New Hampshire's possibilities. I urge you to vote in favor of this bill."
Hassan supports HB1633, which is a revamped version of last year's bill that was shot down. Many legislators said they could not support it because it did not include enough regulations or big enough profits for the state and failed to address gambling addiction. A newly-created Gaming Oversight Authority worked over the summer and fall and the revised bill was crafted as a result of their efforts.
The House Ways and Means committee held public hearings Feb. 6 and listened to several hours of testimony both pro and con on the bill. Supporters touted the bill's economic benefits and the coming competition with Massachusetts. Opponents said those economic benefits would be outweighed by the social costs and that the brand of New Hampshire, which has travel and tourism as its main industry, would be irreparably damaged.
The committee scheduled work sessions on the measure for Feb. 11-13. Several other expanded gambling bills, none of which has the support of the governor or is seen as having any chance of passage, were to be heard Feb. 7.
While state representatives were listening to testimony Feb. 6, state senators addressed a separate bill which was introduced earlier in the session and calls for the legalization of two casinos, one to be a high-end destination in the southern tier and the other to be smaller one sited in the economically depressed North Country region near the Canadian border.
SB366 was tabled on a unanimous voice vote. Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican who represents the district where the idle Rockingham Park is located, has said that the Senate will wait to see what action the House takes before moving forward with its bill.
Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas holds the option to buy Rockingham Park, which has not hosted a Thoroughbred meet since 2002 or a Standardbred one since 2009, should expanded gambling be legalized and the casino company wins the license through a competitive bid process called for in both the house and senate versions of the bill.
Millennium officials have repeatedly stated that the return of live racing is part of the revitalization of the racetrack property, but none of the bills before either legislative body have any provisions for live racing and its regulation.