N.H. House rejects Hassan-supported one-casino bill

Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014
The House has defeated a one-casino bill supported by Gov. Maggie Hassan, 173-144, dashing the hopes of casino supporters once again.

“There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle,” said Rep. Gary Richardson, a Hopkinton Democrat. “If we approve gambling today, we’re never going to get rid of it.”

The House has never voted in favor of expanded gambling in the form a casino. This bill was crafted by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, which Hassan tasked last year with developing a highly regulated plan for one casino. In a statement after the vote, Hassan said she still believes developing a highly regulated, high-end casino is critical to New Hampshire’s economic future.

“Soon, we will all see the impact of Massachusetts casinos right across our border in the form of lost revenue and potential social costs,” she said. “One way or another, we will need to recognize what is happening around us and take action to protect the interests of New Hampshire’s people and economy.”

Supporters of the bill said it tackled previous issues with regulation and would bring much-needed revenue to New Hampshire.

“The authority has done what you have asked of it, it’s time to move forward,” said Rep. Richard Ames, a Jaffrey Democrat and chairman of the oversight authority.

But opponents won out with their arguments that the regulations weren’t strong enough, that gambling would bring social ills to New Hampshire and create addicts and that a casino would provide an uncertain stream of revenue. They also said approving one could easily lead to approving more.

“The casino fairy is back, she’s back with apparently limitless supply of casino fairy dust…to solve whatever problems you want to have solved,” said Rep. David Hess, a Hooksett Republican.

Hess highlighted what he saw as numerous regulatory problems in the bill. The bill would’ve created a 5-member commission to oversee all gambling in the state, including through the lottery. Hess said the bill did not include enough checks and balances on that commission and didn’t give the attorney general’s office appropriate power to oversee the casino and the commission.

Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, a Portsmouth Democrat, said that a casino would create thousands of new problem gamblers. Testimony presented to the House Ways and Means committee showed 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenue comes from problem gamblers, and that 90 percent of casino revenue comes from slot machines.

Opponents also said it was unlikely New Hampshire could create a casino that would draw in large numbers of people from outside the state, therefore taking money primarily from state residents.

A bill legalizing two casinos is working its way through the Senate, which supported expanded gambling last year. If that bill passes the Senate, it will come before the House.

Check tomorrow’s Concord Monitor for full coverage.

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