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New Hampshire Motor Speedway talks casino with Loudon selectmen

If the House approves a two-casino bill, the future of a casino at New Hampshire Motor Speedway would first be determined by Loudon residents.

Within months of the bill’s passage into law, a special meeting would be scheduled for residents to vote on whether they want a casino in town.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up the bill today, and speedway General Manager Jerry Gappens said he plans to testify in support.

“The bill spells out a logical time frame for the process, and the process really begins with a local control vote, if you will,” said Scott Spradling, a consultant for the speedway who attended a Tuesday night meeting with the Loudon Board of Selectmen. “You can’t advance the idea in any community in New Hampshire if you don’t have a formal referendum vote by the citizens of the potential host community.”

Selectmen stopped short of taking a stance on having a casino in town during the meeting.

“My opinion is if the people in Concord approve this, we’ll move as fast as we can to get everyone’s input,” Selectman Bob Krieger said. The cost of holding a special meeting would be paid by the applicant.

“It could end up dead in the water at the town meeting,” selectmen Chairman Steven Ives said.

Gappens and Spradling talked with the selectmen for 30 minutes about Speedway Motorsport Inc.’s interest in building a casino and hotel on its 12,000 acres on Route 106.

“If the bill passes the House, then we would certainly like to explore the opportunity for making it a venue for a smaller license casino,” Gappens said.

The bill that passed the Senate last month calls for two casinos in New Hampshire with initial licensing fees of $40 million and $80 million. One casino could have up to 3,500 slot machines and 160 table games. The smaller option the speedway plans to apply for could have up to 1,500 slot machines and 80 table games.

The application process would include a review by the attorney general’s office. From the date of approval, construction on a casino in New Hampshire could start within nine months to a year, Spradling said. Depending on the size and scope, a casino could take between 18 and 24 months to build.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Gappens touted what he believes would be the economic benefits of a casino on the local economy.

A casino with the $40 million licensing fee would require a $225 million capital investment to build, not including the purchase of land or infrastructure improvements associated with construction.

“It’s not going to be a slot shed or a slot barn that some people refer to. It would be a nice facility,” Gappens said.

Responding to a question from selectmen, Gappens said a casino and hotel would bring in 460 jobs, but it is unknown how many would be full time.

If the casino and hotel are assessed at half of the cost to build it, $2 million would be generated annually in property tax, Gappens said. As host community, Loudon would receive 3 percent of net machine revenue; 1 percent would go to the host county and distributed to its towns. Coupled with a $25 million revenue sharing proposal, preliminary estimates would have Loudon collecting $2 million to $4 million annually, Spradling said.

Applicants are expected to move swiftly if the bill passes, Spradling said.

“There is interest out there. It’s anticipated that there will be some competition for these licenses,” he said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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