Nearby Revere, Mass., approves $1.3 billion casino proposal
Supporters cheer at Suffolk Downs as they celebrate the passage of a referendum allowing the Mohegan Sun to move forward with its $1.3 billion proposal in Revere and compete with Wynn Resorts for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino, in Revere, Mass., Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
A $1.3 billion casino proposal won support from voters in eastern Massachusetts this week, giving New Hampshire lawmakers a reminder that nearby gambling will soon be an option for New Hampshire residents even if a casino doesn’t open here.
“We need to kind of get in there and get our oar in the water, if you will, so that not all of the funds are going to other states while the problems are coming here,” said Rep. Katherine Rogers, a Concord Democrat and supporter of a one-casino bill now working its way through the House.
In 2011, Massachusetts passed legislation to allow licensing three casinos in separate regions and one slots-only casino. Voters in Revere, Mass., which is about 40 minutes from the New Hampshire border, voted Tuesday to support a Mohegan Sun proposal for a casino at Suffolk Downs. And last year, voters in nearby Everett, Mass., approved a casino proposal by Wynn Resorts. Those two proposals will now go head-to-head before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which will choose a licensee in late May.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire lawmakers are still wrangling over whether to allow casinos at all. The House Ways and Means Committee has been working through a bill that would establish one highly regulated casino. It has the support of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and more than 100 House members, and the Republican-led Senate supports expanding gambling. But an endorsement from the committee in a vote Tuesday is unlikely, said Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat and committee chairwoman. She’s expecting either a tie or slight tip against the bill.
An unfavorable committee vote doesn’t spell certain death on the House floor – lawmakers have overturned several committee recommendations already this year. Supporters of the bill have adopted a grassroots method of talking to their skeptical colleagues one-on-one about the benefits of a casino.
Those lawmakers say a casino in New Hampshire will create jobs and generate much-needed revenue that could go to critical projects such as repairing the state’s roads and bridges. The social costs that can come from gambling will wind up here anyway, and the state could lose serious money if a casino opens across the border but not here, Rogers said.
The governor’s office agrees.
“The continued development of Massachusetts casinos reinforces that New Hampshire will soon be losing $75 million per year that will support investment in Massachusetts’s priorities, not ours,” Marc Goldberg, the governor’s spokesman, said in an email.
There are several casino bills before lawmakers this year, including one from the Senate that would allow for two casinos. But the one-casino bill supported by Hassan and written by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority has the best chance at passing. The bill creates a new oversight structure for gambling, sets strict regulations for casino licensees and provides money for treating problem gambling.
It does not dictate where in the state a casino would be built, and any proposal would need community approval. Rockingham Park in Salem has been talked about as a prime location for a casino, and Millennium Gaming had its eye on that spot last year. A report from casino consultants who helped develop the House’s one-casino bill also said southeastern New Hampshire would be the best location.
The building of a Massachusetts casino only 40 minutes from Salem, however, introduces greater competition and the question of how big a casino New Hampshire could sustain, said Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy.
“What makes Salem a good spot is the fact that you’re pulling in lots of population from other places. The farther away you get from population centers, the less likely that you’re able to create certain revenues,” Norton said. His group has conducted studies on the effects of casino gambling in New Hampshire.
Those studies indicate a casino with fewer than 1,000 slot machines wouldn’t offset the social and other negative costs, he said.
The oversight authority’s bill would allow for a casino with between 2,000 and 5,000 slot machines and 75 to 150 table games, taxed at 35 and 18 percent, respectively. Applicants would pay a $400,000 fee, and the winner would be offered an $80 million, 10-year license. The Legislature would have the power to decide where the money goes, but 1 percent must be benchmarked for treating problem gambling.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)