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State Senate panel endorses bill to allow a N.H. casino

  • Senator Lou D'Allesandro speaks in support of Senate Bill 215, that would legalize gambling in New Hampshire, to the Senate Ways and Means Committee; Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.  D'Allesandro has long advocated for expanding gambling in the state.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Senator Lou D'Allesandro speaks in support of Senate Bill 215, that would legalize gambling in New Hampshire, to the Senate Ways and Means Committee; Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. D'Allesandro has long advocated for expanding gambling in the state.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro explains his plans to bring casino gambling into the state during a Senate Committee meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Concord, N.H. The sponsors of an amended Senate gambling bill say they are hopeful gaming tax revenue will obviate the need to raise the gas tax to pay for highway and bridge projects in the state.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro explains his plans to bring casino gambling into the state during a Senate Committee meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Concord, N.H. The sponsors of an amended Senate gambling bill say they are hopeful gaming tax revenue will obviate the need to raise the gas tax to pay for highway and bridge projects in the state. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Senator Lou D'Allesandro speaks in support of Senate Bill 215, that would legalize gambling in New Hampshire, to the Senate Ways and Means Committee; Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.  D'Allesandro has long advocated for expanding gambling in the state.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro explains his plans to bring casino gambling into the state during a Senate Committee meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Concord, N.H. The sponsors of an amended Senate gambling bill say they are hopeful gaming tax revenue will obviate the need to raise the gas tax to pay for highway and bridge projects in the state.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

A bill that would allow a casino in New Hampshire cleared its first hurdle yesterday in the state Senate.

Legislation backed by Gov. Maggie Hassan and a bipartisan group of lawmakers was endorsed, 4-1, by the Senate Ways and Means Committee with no debate.

The bill will go to the Republican-controlled Senate next week for a vote. If it passes, it will go to the Democratic-controlled House, which in the past has opposed proposals for expanded gambling.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and the casino bill’s prime sponsor, called yesterday’s vote a “baby step forward,” and said he hopes the House will give the proposal serious consideration.

“It’s a question of, is it the right time?” D’Allesandro said. “And it seems to me that its time has come. . . . This provides an opportunity for private investment, for tax revenue for the state of New Hampshire and for the ability to create some jobs, which is something that we need.”

Lempster Republican Sen. Bob Odell, the Ways and Means Committee’s chairman, was the sole vote yesterday against the bill.

“I just struggle with the whole concept of – Massachusetts does something, we do something,” he said after the vote.

Massachusetts is moving forward with a plan to open three full-fledged casinos and one slots parlor in the coming years. One argument made by supporters of expanded gambling is that those facilities will create social problems in New Hampshire while drawing away revenue.

The Senate’s casino bill yesterday is sponsored by, among others, Salem Republican Sen. Chuck Morse and Derry Republican Sen. Jim Rausch; both, like D’Allesandro, are members of the Ways and Means Committee.

It would allow a single casino in the state with an $80 million license fee and a 30 percent tax rate on net earnings. The revenue from the casino would go to fund higher education, transportation infrastructure, North Country economic development and gambling-addiction treatment, among other projects.

The bill was amended twice by the committee yesterday. One was a previously announced rewrite of the bill and the other added a provision creating a three-person advisory board to help direct the funds earmarked for the North Country.

Hassan, a Democrat, has endorsed the Senate bill and is counting on the $80 million license fee to help balance the state budget for the biennium beginning July 1.

“With Massachusetts moving forward with casino gambling, New Hampshire stands to lose $75 million per year if we fail to act,” Hassan said in a statement yesterday. “The true risk we all face is the risk of letting our economy fall behind and allowing the good jobs and growing businesses of the innovation economy to develop elsewhere.”

There are also a couple proposals for casino gambling pending in the House.

One, a bill introduced
by Republican Rep. Edmond Gionet of Lincoln, would
allow two casinos, one
along the Massachusetts border and a second in
the White Mountains. A second bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, would establish six state-operated casinos.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted yesterday to retain both bills, instead of sending them to the House floor for a vote.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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