N.H. Senate passes two-casino bill, keeps expanded gambling hopes alive
Lawmakers have one more shot at approving expanded gambling this session, this time in the form of a bill by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro calling for two casinos.
Senators passed the bill 15-9 yesterday, and it will now go to the House, which killed a bill for one casino by 29 votes two weeks ago. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said expanded gambling is crucial for New Hampshire’s economy, but she’s only voiced support for one casino.
D’Allesandro’s bill calls for two casinos to be located anywhere in the state, with initial licensing fees of $40 million and $80 million. One of the casinos could have up to 3,500 slot machines and 160 table games and the other up to 1,500 slot machines and 80 table games. Money from the casino revenues would go to the host communities and counties, abutting communities and to a problem gambling fund. The bill also provides for $25 million in revenue sharing, which would send money for property tax relief to every town and city in the state.
“Every community in the state will benefit,” D’Allesandro said.
The bill includes all of the regulations built into the House’s bill that were drawn up last year by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority. Those regulations provide protections for other entertainment venues and charitable gambling. For example, a casino couldn’t have a live entertainment venue inside with more than 1,500 seats. The House’s bill also established regulatory authority for the attorney general and created a new commission to regulate all gambling under one roof, including the lottery.
But these added regulations did not convince nine senators that expanding gambling would be good for New Hampshire.
Sen. Russell Prescott, a Kingston Republican, pointed to Delaware, where the casinos are now giving less money to the state than expected and budgets are suffering.
“Delaware has made that mistake to be dependent on a corporation or an entity as a revenue supply that really has . . . strings attached to it,” Prescott said. “History has shown that that’s not the way we should go.”
D’Allesandro’s bill does include a provision aimed at stopping proliferation of casinos. It places a 10-year moratorium on any new casinos and requires a vote of two-thirds of the Legislature to hand out new licenses after that.
But Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat, said casinos are “a false promise to the state.”
A casino would draw revenue away from the state’s existing businesses and therefore the state’s rooms-and-meals tax, she said. And any casino would likely be run by an out-of-state corporation that would send hundreds of millions of dollars in profits out of New Hampshire, she said.
D’Allesandro and other senators have been advocating for a casino for 15 years, and the revenue calculations and decisions on where to send the money keep changing, Fuller Clark said.
“A few years ago we dedicated revenue for specific purposes; that bill didn’t pass. Now we’re seeing that we’re going to try to entice other supporters to this bill by promising revenue sharing,” she said. “There is no guarantee what those revenues are going to be. There is no guarantee that legislators in the future will keep that promise.”
Casino Free New Hampshire sent out a statement calling the Senate’s version of the casino bill worse than the one-casino bill killed in the House.
“Debating another casino bill is nothing but a waste of time. The House has spoken. It’s time to move on,” Co-chairmen Steve Duprey and Harold Janeway said.
But some of the House’s biggest casino advocates applauded the Senate for combining D’Allesandro’s bill with the House regulations and offering casinos another chance.
“These ideas need to be heard by House members,” Rep. Katherine Rogers, a Concord Democrat, said in a statement. “This plan will bring $120 million in much needed revenue into the next budget cycle.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)