By Lynne Snierson
The New Hampshire Senate handily passed an expanded gambling bill with bipartisan support March 14 that would authorize one single, high-end casino along the state's southern border with Massachusetts. The super majority vote was 16-8 and the measure next will be taken up by the House of Representatives.
Although Senate Democrats (9-2) and Republicans (7-6) aligned in favor of SB 152, stiff opposition remains in the House, which has killed every piece of legislation to expand gambling in modern times. The bill will be assigned to a House subcommittee as the next step in the process.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is a stalwart supporter of the bill. It calls for an $80 million license fee, a minimum investment of $425 million by the casino developer, 5,000 slot machines, and 150 table games. There would be a 30% tax rate on slots, with 3% going to the host community, 1% for the abutting communities, and 1% to fund gambling addiction programs. The remaining 25% of the revenue would be dedicated to the repair of roads, bridges, and highways, higher education, and the economic development of the depressed North Country region.
The governor included revenue from the $80 million casino license fee in her biennial budget, and recently stated that figure could rise to as high as $100 million. But House leaders are currently crafting a biennial budget that does not include the $80 million as a revenue source.
Under terms of the Senate bill, the casino license must be awarded through an open, transparent, and competitive bidding process. Two groups, the Green Meadows Golf Course and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a NASCAR track, have already stepped forward to compete for the license and others backed by major casino developers are expected.
Nonetheless, Rockingham Park, which is located on the border with Massachusetts, is considered to be the odds-on choice to win the license. Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas holds the option to buy the 107-year-old track should legislation pass and it win the bid. Millennium has released plans for a $450 million revitalized Rockingham, which last held a Thoroughbred meet in 2002 and a Standardbred meet in 2009.
"We are very pleased with the hard work of a number of the senators and we are very hopeful we will be successful when we get over to the House," said Ed Callahan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park. "We seek to return live racing in the event we can ultimately acquire a (casino) license, and as part of the new facility at Rockingham Park, racing will be included."
In related news, voters in the Town of Salem, home to Rockingham Park, overwhelmingly passed a non-binding referendum March 12 to allow video lottery terminals and table games to be operated in a commercial casino at the track. The vote passed by an 81% majority and was designed to send a clear message to the legislature.