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Gambling in the Granite State

New Hampshire bill would revive casino study

Lawmakers will decide tomorrow whether to take a second crack at writing regulations for a casino should one – or more – be proposed again.

The trailer bill accompanying the state budget, due for a vote tomorrow, includes the creation of a Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority to study regulations of existing and expanded gambling. The authority would have until Dec. 15 to write proposed regulations for expanded gambling and draft legislation for consideration next year.

Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat who said she doesn’t have strong feelings about casino gambling, proposed the oversight committee after listening to this year’s debate over legalizing a casino in the state. “The biggest problem people had, I think, with (the Senate’s proposed casino bill) was the lack of a regulatory structure.” The bill passed the Senate and had the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan but failed in the House by 35 votes.

“I’m still not sure how I feel about (casino) gambling,” Rosenwald said yesterday. “But I wasn’t comfortable with the (Senate) bill the way it was written because the regulatory structure, I didn’t think, was strong.” Rosenwald also cited the recommendations of a former gambling study commission, namely that the state adopt regulations before legalizing a casino.

“That makes sense to me,” she said.

The Legislature attempted something similar in 2010, but the Republican-led Executive Council essentially ended the inquiry by refusing the group’s request to hire a gambling consultant for $40,000. The money had been appropriated by the Legislature but the contract required approval from the Executive Council.

That study group ceased meeting after that Executive Council vote and its authority expires this month.

Rosenwald intends for her amendment to the trailer bill to renew that study, with some changes.

Again, the study group can spend up to $250,000 from the state Lottery Commission budget. This time, though, the group won’t need the Executive Council’s approval to spend the money needed to hire experts or do other research. Rosenwald said the purpose is not to deny the Executive Council a vote, but instead to move the study along faster by eliminating one step so the group can complete its worth by December.

The group’s membership would be similar. It would include the attorney general and then an official from three state agencies: the Department of Safety, the Lottery Commission and the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. House and Senate leadership would each appoint a member, and Hassan would get to appoint three people, one of whom would serve as the chairperson.

The study would also look closely at the charitable gaming already in place in the state and determine a way to sustain it. Some casino critics expressed concern this year that a casino would draw gamblers from charity gaming nights.

Rep. David Hess, a Hooksett Republican who has long led the fight against legalizing casinos in New Hampshire, said he suggested the creation of a study commission this year, during the House casino debate. He said his idea was ignored, and he wondered yesterday whether this study is a “back-door attempt by the governor and her allies to keep casino gambling alive in the general court.”

Hassan’s spokesman, Marc Goldberg, said yesterday the governor would support the study. But she didn’t think it was necessary.

“While it is unusual to establish regulations before passing underlying legislation,” Goldberg said, “and we are confident that the regulatory infrastructure outlined in (the Senate casino bill) would ensure appropriate and thorough oversight of a casino, the governor supports moving forward with a timely study of regulatory oversight for one casino in order to address concerns expressed by members of the Legislature.”

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

The barn door is open. The horse is gone.

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