By Lynne Snierson
Expanded gambling in New Hampshire edged one step closer to passage Feb. 21 when the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives passed BH 593, as amended Feb. 12, by a vote of 14-7. The margin was identical to the previously passed legislation by the same committee before the amendments were attached.
Since there was confusion regarding a number of amendments to the original bill earlier in the month, the committee blended into a single amendment a provision that adds two smaller casino licenses for a total of four. The two larger casinos originally proposed call for 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games each and the smaller facilities would be able to install a maximum of 2,000 slots and 60 table games.
One of the two casino licenses would be designated for an economically deprived area of the state in either the North Country near the Canadian border or in the southwest part of the state on the Vermont border.
Other provisions in the amendment call for business tax changes and adding the licensing fees and table gaming revenues into the state’s general fund.
The full House, which has 400 members, is expected to take up the bill after the winter break in early March. Governor John Lynch has vowed to veto an expansion of gambling so the bill would have to pass both the House and the 24-member Senate by a two-thirds majority in order to become law.
Should the bill pass, Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, which holds an option to buy Rockingham Park, has planned a $450 million renovation of the racetrack property. A spokesperson for Millennium said the return of live Thoroughbred racing would be part of the revitalization. Rockingham last held a Thoroughbred meet in 2002.