Salem voters support casino for Rockingham Park
Voters in Salem gave overwhelming support to the creation of a state-sanctioned casino at Rockingham Park yesterday.
In a nonbinding referendum at town meeting, they voted 4,598-1,074 in favor, according to the Salem Patch news website.
Specifically, voters were asked whether they favor video lottery machines and table games to be operated in a commercial casino at the race track, where charitable bingo is held but live horse racing ended in 2010.
A bill legalizing a casino is up for a vote in the state Senate tomorrow. It’s expected to pass easily but will likely face a harder time in the House, which has rejected many similar bills over the years. Legalized gambling in New Hampshire is limited to the lottery and charitable games. Simulcast races at Rockingham also are allowed.
Gov. Maggie Hassan supports the legislation, which would legalize up to 5,000 video slots and 150 table games. She included $80 million in licensing fees in her budget to pressure lawmakers to approve a casino.
Bill supporters say it’s important that New Hampshire move quickly, to compete with Massachusetts, which already has approved three casinos and a slots parlor.
Former governor John Lynch squelched gambling supporters’ efforts to bring a casino to New Hampshire during his eight years in office by questioning whether it would negatively affect quality of life. Lynch threatened to veto a bill last year that would have legalized four casinos that would have been licensed to install up to 14,000 video slot machines and 420 table games. The bill died in the House, despite supporters’ arguments that New Hampshire would lose revenue to Massachusetts.
Hassan’s support for gambling has given supporters hope this year will be different.
Though the casino’s location would be open to competition, most believe it would be on New Hampshire’s border with Massachusetts. Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas has an option to buy the Rockingham Park race track and proposes spending $450 million building a facility at the track.
Salem voters faced a major referendum on Rockingham Park 80 years ago, just after New Hampshire legalized gambling on horse races. Residents in 1933 voted, 617-2, to restore racing at the park, enabling horse racing to return for full seasons rather than a week’s worth of events.
By 1936, the track was providing a major source of revenue to the state, enabling elected officials to balance the budget without implementing broad-based taxes.
The track has a storied history in the annals of American horse racing. It was the first track in the country to use a moving starting gate and the first to offer insurance to riders.
The park stopped holding live horse racing events in 2010, saying it was unable to come up with the necessary funding.
The track instituted charitable bingo games in 1997 and charitable Texas Hold’em tournaments in 2006. It also simulcasts races on big-screen televisions.