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Gambling in the Granite State

Developer unveils plans for Salem casino; hearings next week for two bills

  • Linda Burnett, of Salem, studies the horses in the rendering of the proposed plans for Rockingham Park. While developers would like to include racing, they're still unsure of what kind it will be. Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Linda Burnett, of Salem, studies the horses in the rendering of the proposed plans for Rockingham Park. While developers would like to include racing, they're still unsure of what kind it will be. Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, speaks about a proposed Rockingham Park  casino, February 7, 2013. The televisions at the front of the room displayed development sketches and a message asking resident to vote  yes on the referendum.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, speaks about a proposed Rockingham Park casino, February 7, 2013. The televisions at the front of the room displayed development sketches and a message asking resident to vote yes on the referendum.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, chats with folks before the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, chats with folks before the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman speaks at the town hall for  Rockingham Park proposed casino, February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman speaks at the town hall for Rockingham Park proposed casino, February 7, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Linda Burnett, of Salem, studies the horses in the rendering of the proposed plans for Rockingham Park. While developers would like to include racing, they're still unsure of what kind it will be. Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, speaks about a proposed Rockingham Park  casino, February 7, 2013. The televisions at the front of the room displayed development sketches and a message asking resident to vote  yes on the referendum.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman, right, chats with folks before the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Nearly 200 people showed up to the town hall at Rockingham Park regarding the proposed casino on February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Millennium Gaming co-CEO Bill Wortman speaks at the town hall for  Rockingham Park proposed casino, February 7, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

A casino at Rockingham Park in Salem would draw five million people a year, put nearly 3,000 people to work and support local businesses with a clever partnership program, its developer told an enthusiastic crowd in Salem last night.

Nearly 200 people turned out to hear how Millennium Gaming and the owners of Rockingham Park would replace the tired racetrack with a $450 million casino that includes live horse racing, up to 5,000 slot machines, table games and a hotel.

“If (New Hampshire legalizes casinos), and we are hopeful that it does . . . I will assure you that we will be first in line to submit an application,” said Bill Wortman of Millennium Gaming. “We believe this is the best place in New Hampshire for a casino and the best place in the entire New England area.”

Wortman is hoping the election of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports a single, highly regulated casino, has increased a casino’s chances in New Hampshire. Hassan’s predecessor, John Lynch, opposed expanded gambling, and previous bills expanding gambling have never made it out of the State House.

In two weeks, lawmakers will consider two new bills.

The first, scheduled for a public hearing at 9 a.m. Feb. 19 at the State House, comes from Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican. Their bill would allow a single casino anywhere in the state and charge $80 million for a 10-year license, which would be awarded by competitive bid.

Their bill would tax slot revenue at 30 percent and table gaming revenue at 14 percent, with the bulk of the proceeds going toward state highway and education expenses and economic development in the North Country.

A competing bill, filed by Rep. Edmond Gionet, a Lincoln Republican, will be heard Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building. Gionet’s bill would legalize two casinos, one of which would have to be in the White Mountains, and dedicate tax revenue to road and bridge projects. It would tax all proceeds at 49 percent.

Last night, Wortman told a crowd of largely Salem residents what a casino by Millennium Gaming would bring to the state.

Construction would take 18 to 20 months and create 2,500 jobs. Once the casino was open, Wortman said, 1,300 people would be hired with average salaries of $43,000.

In addition to the slots and table games, Millennium would host charitable gaming, too. “We will be as good corporate citizens here as we are elsewhere and as good as you have here,” he said.

The blueprints Wortman presented showed a casino that would resemble the old Rockingham Park racetrack on the outside but look more like a large Las Vegas casino inside. It would include a restaurant that could draw nongamblers, he said.

A few people in the crowd asked Wortman how he’d avoid stealing customers and revenue from local businesses. Wortman said he’d bring the Neighborhood Partners program he’s developed at his other casinos to Salem.

His customers would earn “points” that they could use elsewhere, at any business that wanted to partner with the casino. Those points could be traded for meals at a local restaurant or lift tickets at a ski area. The restaurant and ski area would then be compensated by the casino for the meal and lift tickets.

Rich Killion, a spokesman for Millennium, said businesses that have partnered with Wortman’s casino in Pennsylvania have received about $3 million in compensation since he opened there in 2007.

The Pennsylvania casino attracts about 2.8 million visitors a year, Wortman said. He believes a Salem casino would double that because the “catchment area” of customers is bigger and there is less competition here than in Pennsylvania, he said.

Wortman had not seen D’Allesandro and Morse’s bill before the meeting and did not know what their proposed tax rate would be. So, he was unable to estimate tax revenues to the state and to Salem.

He said the Pennsylvania facility has generated $722 million for that state in the past five years and $10 million for the hosting county each year.

Scott Spradling, another Millennium Gaming spokesman, hosted the session last night. He said the group will be watching to see how Hassan proceeds on casinos and wondered last night whether she would include a casino license revenue in her budget, which will be released Thursday.

Hassan’s spokesman could not be reached last night after the meeting to comment.

An earlier version of this story had incorrect dates for the casino bill hearings.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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