N.H. senator pushing revised casino bill next week
A state senator who has tried for years to persuade lawmakers to legalize a casino said yesterday he plans to try again despite a House vote to reject one last week.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro plans to ask the Senate on Thursday to add comprehensive regulations for a casino that was in the defeated House bill and to send it back to the House.
“We know we need the revenue. No question about that. This is probably our last shot,” D’Allesandro said.
D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, said he and Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, are working on an amendment to incorporate parts of the House bill into his proposal. The House bill would have legalized one casino with 5,000 video slot machines, but he said his bill would license two casinos sharing the 5,000 video slot machines.
The two casinos in D’Allesandro’s bill would share 240 table game licenses. The House proposed licensing 150 table games.
Supporters of the House bill estimated the state would get about $105 million in annual revenue from the casino. The Lottery Commission estimates two casinos as proposed in D’Allesandro’s bill would generate $168 million for the state and about $480 million for the two license holders when they were fully operating.
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro said he remains opposed to a casino but expects the bill to easily pass the Senate.
“I think, to a certain extent, it undermines the brand that is New Hampshire,” Bradley said.
Bradley said he questions whether the revenue will be as much as people expect and is concerned about gambling addiction.
Some House lawmakers had objected to the bill because they believed it would create a monopoly, while other opponents said legalizing a casino was an irreversible and negative change in the state’s image.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has repeatedly said she supports only a single casino.
Hassan, D’Allesandro and other casino supporters believe New Hampshire should legalize a casino to capture gambling profits that otherwise will be spent in Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.
“I live and hope,” D’Allesandro said.
The House and Senate disagree on how to raise money for big-ticket budget items such as highway improvements that include finishing the Interstate 93 expansion, higher education and economic development. The House passed a gas tax last year to pay for road fixes, but the Senate killed it.
This year, the Senate is considering a 4-cent increase in the tax on gas and diesel to pay for some highway improvements but mainly so the state can borrow money to finish the I-93 project and have money to pay off the debt.
D’Allesandro said he plans to sweeten his casino bill by adjusting the distribution of the state’s profits to include $25 million in revenue sharing with communities. House gambling supporters had talked of adding that to the House bill had it survived.
He said he also will add a provision protecting the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester by limiting entertainment seating at the casino to 1,500 people. The arena seats about 10,000.
Although the casino bills don’t designate locations, most believe Rockingham Park racetrack in nearby Salem would get a casino since it is on the Massachusetts border and would draw from a larger population base than a northern location. The Verizon Wireless Arena asked for the seating limit at a casino to prevent it from competing for its entertainment acts.