NH House Delays Action on Expanded Gambling

Bill remanded to Ways and Means Committee for study of various amendments.

By Lynne Snierson

The New Hampshire House of Representatives delayed action Feb. 8 on a bill that would expand gambling and open the door for the return of live Thoroughbred racing.

By a vote of 257-91, legislators decided to recommit the measure to the Ways and Means Committee for further consideration and public hearings.

“There were multiple amendments coming in, and there was a considerable amount of confusion,” said Ed Callahan, Rockingham Park president and general manager. “Rather than have them all come in as floor amendments, the leadership felt it was best to send the bill back to the committee, let them hear all of the amendments, and then let them put together a final bill.”

There is a hearing on the various amendments scheduled for Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. EST at the Statehouse.

The version of House Bill 593 that was sent to the floor Feb. 8 would allow the establishment of two casinos, one immediately and the second to come two years later. Each casino would be allowed to install 5,000 slot machines and also offer table games.

Each license would cost $50 million, and the state would receive 35% of slots revenue and 8% of table games revenue to offset business taxes.

Rockingham Park is considered the heavy favorite to win the first license. Millenium Gaming of Las Vegas, which holds the option to buy the track, had pledged a $450 million revitalization of the property and said the return of live Thoroughbred racing is in the plans.

The newly-amended bill is expected to be brought back before the full House of Representatives in two to three weeks.

Over the last two decades no expanded gambling bill has ever made it through the House, but the political climate changed when neighboring Massachusetts legalized three destination resort casinos and one stand-alone slots parlor last fall. Studies have shown that New Hampshire residents already gamble $80 million a year in Connecticut, and it is expected that $100 million will leave the state once the Massachusetts casinos open if the legislature does not respond.

Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who is retiring when his term expires in January 2013, has promised to veto any expansion of gambling. To become law, the bill would require enough votes in both the House and the Senate to override that action.