Close New Hampshire Casino Vote Expected

Rockingham Park is considered frontrunner for one of four casinos.

By Lynne Snierson
The full New Hampshire House of Representatives will take up the expansion of gambling this week and the floor vote expected on March 28 or 29 is anticipated to be as close as a photo finish.

HB593 calls for the construction of four new casinos--two small and two large--with a total of 14,000 slot machines and 420 table games  Rockingham Park is widely considered the frontrunner to be awarded one of the large facilities and Millennium Gaming, which holds the option to purchase the 106-year-old property should the legislation pass, has said that the return of live Thoroughbred racing will be part of the track’s revitalization.

Although every expanded gambling bill brought forth in recent years has been killed by the House, there is now added pressure on lawmakers because of newly legalized casinos in the bordering states of Massachusetts and Maine. Support for the bill in the legislature, where there is an overwhelming Republican majority, also increased when it was reworked by leadership to tie it to cuts in New Hampshire’s high business taxes.

The projected casino revenue of $290 million would be used to lower the business profits tax from 8.5% to 4.3% and slash the business enterprise tax by two-thirds from 0.75 to 0.25. Business owners who attended a news conference on March 26 said the significant cuts would be an incubator to grow existing companies and would also attract new ones to the state.

Supporters also said that unless New Hampshire acts now, the state would lose about $150 million to casinos in Massachusetts annually plus an additional $40 to $50 million in lottery revenue and room and meal taxes. They maintain that New Hampshire residents would travel to Massachusetts to gamble and leave their money there but return home with a host of social problems.

Opponents argued that expanding gambling in New Hampshire is not the answer to the social ills created and say it would destroy the quality of life in the state. “We would have probably the highest concentration of legalized gambling per capita anywhere in the United States, outside of Nevada,” said Representative David Hess (R).

The House is said to be split on the issue and a two-thirds majority would be needed to override the promised veto of Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who is retiring in January at the conclusion of his fourth term in office. Meanwhile, the Senate is sitting on its version of an expanded gambling bill as it waits to see what happens in the House.