New Hampshire Motor Speedway touts viability of casino site in Loudon
Ahead of a House vote on a bill allowing two casinos in the state, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway has ramped up lobbying efforts to drive home the point: They would make a fine site for a casino.
General Manager Jerry Gappens hosted a breakfast Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in Concord and talked about the site’s potential use as a state fairgrounds, the proposed 20,000-square-foot Northeast Motor Sports Museum and infrastructure improvements to Route 106.
He also reiterated his support for the two-casino legislation that passed the Senate in March and now faces an uncertain future in the House. Gappens will testify Thursday in support of the bill in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, he said.
“If it’s going to come, this would be a site that should be on the most desirable list,” Gappens said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m a pro-speedway guy, and I’m bullish on this location. I think the Route 106 corridor has so much economic growth potential. It would be a good thing to bring in additional tax revenue and jobs to the area.”
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, the Manchester Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said Thursday that while it’s too early to discuss the viability of potential sites, he has heard chatter about possible locations. “Have people mentioned sites? Yes, they have. Heck, it’s a bidding situation,” D’Allesandro said.
If the bill is passed into law, the process to apply for a license would be open and competitive, he added.
In 2008, Speedway Motorsports Inc., owner of eight major racetracks, paid $340 million cash for the speedway, and its owners have since poured more than $20 million into infrastructure, including $1.2 million for a state-of-the-art scoreboard and new bathrooms. Last year, anchored by two NASCAR Spring Cup races, the speedway attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and pumped about $400 million into the local and state economy, Gappens said.
“Imagine if you were attracting a new business and you already had a guest list of 400,000 customers,” Gappens said. “That’s a pretty strong statement.”
On race weekends, the 12,000-acre site in Loudon becomes one of the largest cities in the state, with about 90,000 people. Its full-time staff of 45 grows to more than 1,500 part-time workers in the summer.
“They put an enormous investment into New Hampshire and have brought revenue into this state,” D’Allesandro said. “It’s an entertainment venue that has proved very successful.”
Sen. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican who represents Loudon, voted against the two-casino legislation.
“It doesn’t matter where it would be. It would be a bad thing,” he said. “It’s touted as the cure to all your revenue shortfalls, and it hasn’t been that for anyone.”
He questioned whether the site could operate successfully on race weekends. “They are in the racetrack business. What happens to their regular thousands of people who are gaming and then all of the people want to go there for a NASCAR race? It sounds like it might be a logistical problem,” he said.
He won’t change his mind, he said. However, he added, if casinos were approved in New Hampshire, he’d like to see it go to a legitimate business, and the speedway fits that description.
“They are a big employer. They bring a lot of money into Loudon and, by spin-off, it helps a lot of people in the area,” he said. “If you’re trying to be sensible about this, it makes about as much sense as any place in the state. I just don’t want to see one.”
A casino at the site could bridge the race season and the off-season between late October and April, Gappens said. The speedway is well-positioned for a casino license because of its location between the Lakes Region and cities such as Manchester and Concord.
In 2010, when the Legislature was considering a bill that would have allowed video slot machines at racetracks in Belmont, Seabrook, Salem and three other venues, the speedway hired a firm to conduct an in-depth gambling and hotel market assessment. The study was based on a model of four casinos in New Hampshire, one in Massachusetts and two in Maine. Based on the study, a casino in Loudon could accommodate 750 slot machines and 24 table games. In the first year of operation, the study found total gambling revenue was estimated at about $50 million, Gappens said. A proposal likely wouldn’t include a concert venue, but a hotel would make sense, he said.
“And that was done in 2010, right in the middle of a challenging economy,” he added. “If there are only two licenses in New Hampshire, those numbers could be even higher.”
There are 18 million people within 200 miles of the speedway, and those who want to gamble visit casinos in Maine and Connecticut, Gappens said. Two out-of-state casinos are spending $100,000 for advertising at the speedway, and though the revenue is welcome, the advertisements essentially ask people to leave New Hampshire.
“We are in the business of trying to bring tourism dollars and bring revenue to the state. We’ve got a track record of doing that,” he said.
D’Allesandro’s legislation includes a revenue-sharing provision that would split $25 million among cities and towns each year. A percentage of proceeds would also go to the state Department of Health and Human Services to support addiction treatment programs.
Oxford – not Las Vegas
Opponents of bringing casinos to New Hampshire blast the legislation for its potential negative social effects and say the financial gain for cities and towns has been exaggerated.
“The other thing that troubles me when I hear opponents criticize and question the social impact of gaming in an area (is) I never see a story quoted where they’ve gone to the local authorities,” Gappens said. “What has it done for crime?”
Comparisons to Las Vegas and Atlantic City are off-base, he said. In envisioning what a casino in New Hampshire might look like, Gappens suggested looking at Oxford, Maine. A casino with 790 slots and 22 table games opened in 2012 in a community with fewer than 5,000 people. In the first year of operations the casino created 429 new jobs and directly contributed $25 million to the local economy, according to its website.
“It basically verifies what our study in 2010 told us,” Gappens said. “I think that’s more an apples-to-apples comparison.”
Legislation touting one casino was defeated in the House in March, prompting D’Allesandro to introduce a bill with two casinos.
“The great criticism when you had one was that it was targeted for one situation and there wasn’t any competition,” he said. “Two casinos opens the bid for any place in the state.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)