By Bob Crawford and Robert Coniglio
Blackjack at Rockingham Park Racetrack? If casino proponents have their way, that vision could become a reality. Two bills recently introduced into the New Hampshire General Court have the potential to make the state the latest to legalize casino gaming.
SB152 would allow for one gaming location with not more than 150 table games and 5,000 video lottery machines. Proceeds from gaming would fund infrastructure, education and economic development and would include payments to the host community. It would also create a Gaming Study Commission which would review the operations of the casino and the casino’s impact, as well as make recommendations on the wisdom of additional licenses. The host community of the casino applicant would have the opportunity to allow for such a casino by town meeting or referendum.
HB665 would allow for two destination casinos, one in the White Mountains region of the state and one in a county bordering Massachusetts. Proceeds from the casinos would go towards the state’s highway fund and the host community. As with SB152, the host community would have the opportunity to approve the casino via town meeting or referendum.
Both bills have attracted quite a bit of attention. A public hearing on SB152 on Feb. 19 included testimony by Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports the bill. Casino supporters have expressed a desire to beat Massachusetts to the tables and open a casino near the Massachusetts border before Massachusetts finishes its licensing process. Opponents of casino legalization at the public hearing included New Hampshire’s Attorney General and police officials. SB152 is expected to be sent to the New Hampshire Senate for a vote as soon as March 7.
One often mentioned site for a casino in New Hampshire is the Rockingham Park Race Track in Salem. Millennium Gaming Inc. has an option to buy the Park and is prepared to apply for the casino license should legalized gaming become a reality in the state. Salem will be holding a non-binding referendum on whether they want a casino at the Town Meeting on March 12. Other potential sites include the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the Green Meadows Golf Club.
In March 2012, several previous proposals to legalize casino gaming were defeated in the state legislature. The previous governor, John Lynch was also a casino opponent and had promised to veto any legalization bill that had passed the legislature. The aggressive support of Governor Hassan may change the dynamic, but the odds for casino legalization in New Hampshire remain unclear.