N.H. casino supporters tout revenue sharing among all communities
Casino foes and supporters squared off before the House Ways and Means Committee once again yesterday, this time over a bill that would legalize two casinos and divide $25.2 million in revenue sharing among every community.
“I don’t want to go into an enormous diatribe. You’ve heard it over and over again,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor. “What I’m saying to you is this piece of legislation benefits all of the people in the state of New Hampshire. As a public official, that’s my goal – to produce something that has benefit for everyone.”
D’Allesandro’s bill is the final piece of casino legislation to come before the House this year. The House killed a one-casino bill earlier this year on a recommendation from the Ways and Means Committee. During yesterday’s hearing, supporters said the revenue sharing is a significant and positive difference in this bill.
But opponents of casinos said the Legislature has already spoken on the issue, this year and for the past 15 years casino gambling has been debated. D’Allesandro has been championing a casino as a new source of revenue for years.
“It’s time to let it go,” Hampton police Chief Eddie Edwards said.
The bill would allow for two competitively licensed casinos to be located anywhere in the state with initial licensing fees of $40 million and $80 million and require significant capital investments from the licensees. D’Allesandro estimates the casinos would generate $140 million to $150 million annually, although casino opponents said revenues would be much lower.
Supporters hope the restored revenue sharing may persuade some lawmakers to change their votes. The state stopped giving $25.2 million in annual revenue sharing during the economic downturn, and this bill restores it.
Casino opponents cautioned lawmakers to be wary of making revenue promises to towns and cities when the Legislature has a track record of taking promised money away.
“We know how it works,” Kensington police Chief Michael Sielicki said. “Dangle a carrot, let (the towns) have it, take a couple of bites, then you take it away.”
Will Stewart of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce was more direct.
“It’s a nice bribe,” he said.
Opponents also made familiar arguments that a casino would hurt existing entertainment venues and businesses and would bring social ills to the state. Leading casino opponents Steve Duprey and Harold Janeway held a press conference last week blasting the bill for these reasons.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican who closely tracks the casino votes, said some libertarian House members who didn’t like the first bill because it created a monopoly could change their minds. But both he and Rep. Dan McGuire, an Epsom Republican, said allowing for two casinos still wasn’t enough. McGuire offered an amendment to legalize slot machines in places with liquor licenses, while Vaillancourt introduced one that would allow for three casinos.
While the House has historically opposed expanded gambling, the Senate has been clear in its support. Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, urged the committee yesterday to approve the bill and said the Senate would work with House lawmakers to get the bill right.
He pointed to last year’s budget, the Medicaid expansion deal and an increase in the gas tax as examples of tough compromises the bodies have made together.
“We know that we need to sit at the table – like we have done on three major pieces of legislation – and get it done,” he said.
Rockingham Park in Salem is widely considered to be the prime location for a casino, although the bill doesn’t specify where the casinos would go. Jerry Gappens, general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, testified that the speedway would be interested in a casino as well.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has been urging lawmakers to legalize one casino since she took office last year and has said a casino is part of a “modern economy.” She again called for a casino after the House defeated its one-casino bill last month, but she hasn’t said whether she’d sign a bill legalizing two.
The House Ways and Means Committee will vote on the bill Thursday, then it will move to the full House.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)