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N.H. House votes against reopening casino debate

The House stood by last week’s decision to reject a bill legalizing two casinos yesterday, voting 192-172 not to reopen debate on the issue and upholding its record of never having voted in favor of casinos.

“We know what it’s about, we know how we feel,” said, Rep. David Hess, a Hooksett Republican and casino opponent.

But House members also declined to put the final nail in the casino coffin for this session by rejecting a motion to indefinitely postpone the bill. Doing that would have prohibited lawmakers from hearing any “substantially similar” proposal for the rest of the session. Leaving it open means the Senate could attach the casino bill to something else and send it back to the House.

“You never say never in this business,” Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and prime sponsor of the two-casino bill, said after the vote when asked whether senators could send it back to the House.

House casino opponents picked up votes this week: 192 people voted not to reconsider it, compared with 173 who voted against the bill last week. The vote among casino supporters stayed the same, at 172 both times.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has been a strong supporter of legalizing one casino and even included casino revenue in her budget proposal last year. She has not said directly whether she supports the two-casino proposal, but her spokesman William Hinkle said the House’s close votes show lawmakers understand New Hampshire stands to lose money when Massachusetts’s casinos open. Hassan continues to believe developing a casino is in the state’s best interest, he said.

Rep. Peter Leishman, a Peterborough Democrat, urged his colleagues to reopen debate on the bill because he said last week’s tie vote was not a clear indication of the House position. Rep. Ken Weyler, a Kingston Republican, also pointed to low April revenue and a potential loss in revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax as financial reasons why New Hampshire needs casino money.

Had debate been reopened, House members planned to offer 11 amendments, ranging from changing the number of gambling venues to tacking on several marijuana bills that supporters thought the Senate might pass in order to get a casino.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and casino opponent, and Hess told their colleagues that making substantial changes to legislation on the floor is not the way the House should do business.

“Writing legislation on the House floor never produces good, sound public policy,” Wallner said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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