By Lynne Snierson
The hearing room at the New Hampshire Legislative Office Building was filled to capacity Feb. 13 as amendments to an expanded gambling bill were fiercely debated by those opposed to and in favor of allowing casinos in the state.
The most significant action of the session was the approval of an amendment to HB593 that increases the number of gambling facilities from two to four. Doubling the number greatly improves the chances of Rockingham Park, which was already viewed as the front-runner to gain one of the licenses, to become the state’s first casino if the measure becomes law.
Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, which intends to execute its option to purchase the 106-year-old track should expanded gambling be approved, maintains that the return of live Thoroughbred racing would be part of the property’s revitalization plans. The racetrack last hosted a Thoroughbred meet 10 years ago and has not held live racing of any breed since 2009.
The casinos would each be allowed to install a maximum of 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games, and licenses would cost $50 million. License application fees would be $500,000 and include another $100,000 to the office of the state attorney general for background checks, plus other associated costs. Two of the casinos could be smaller facilities with fewer slots and table games and they would come at a lesser cost.
The state would collect 35% of the casino revenue and 8% of net profits from the table games. The overall revenue collected would offset business taxes, support the host communities and abutting municipalities, and provide funds for the treatment of problem gamblers.
Despite urgency on the part of many legislators to pass an expanded gambling bill to counteract the predicted cross border revenue drain of up to $100 million from the construction of casinos in neighboring Massachusetts, those who are opposed remain adamant. Moreover, Governor John Lynch has promised to veto any expanded gambling bills and thus supporters would have to garner enough votes in both the House and Senate to override that action.
A subcommittee is expected to make a recommendation on the House version of the bill early next week, but a full vote is not expected to come to the floor until after the winter break in early March. Meanwhile, the Senate has tabled action on its version of an expanded gambling bill until it sees what develops in the House.