By Lynne Snierson
The New Hampshire House of Representatives March 28 soundly rejected the expansion of gambling by a wide margin even though both supporters and opponents predicted that the vote would be razor thin.
HB 593, which called for the construction of four casinos, was defeated 195-154. After debate, a second bill that called for the state owning casinos and leasing them to operators was killed 239-104. Every expanded gambling bill brought forward in modern times has died in the House, but there was added pressure on the legislature this year because of the recently legalized casinos across the border in Massachusetts.
The Senate had drafted its version of expanded gambling legislation but was waiting to see what action the House would take before acting. The House vote rendered the second bill moot.
HB 593 called for the construction of two small casinos and two large ones, with a total of 14,000 slot machines and 420 table games. Rockingham Park was the odds-on choice to be awarded one of the large facilities and Millennium Gaming, which holds the option to purchase the 106-year-old property had the legislation passed, said that the return of live Thoroughbred racing would be part of the track’s redevelopment.
"We are disappointed with the House outcome, that some continue to block what a significant majority of New Hampshire citizens support: which is thousands of well paying jobs and hundreds of millions of non-taxpayer revenue brought by permitting casino gaming," said Millennium spokesperson Rich Killion. “We believe a revitalized Rockingham Park would be a tremendous asset to New Hampshire. Given that and the potential of the significant jobs, economic development and revenue, we will continue to work to make a revitalized Rock a reality."
Supporters of the bill, which dedicated revenue from the four casinos to offset New Hampshire’s high business taxes, included business owners, construction workers, labor unions, and law enforcement. Opponents argue that the proliferation of gambling would destroy the quality of life in the state.
Even if there had been enough support to get the bill through the House and Senate this session, there were not enough backers for the two-thirds majority needed to override the promised veto by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat. The governor is retiring when his term expires in January.