The casino legislation endorsed by the New Hampshire Senate and strongly backed by governor Maggie Hassan got its first hearing in the New Hampshire House Tuesday.
The hearing got underway midmorning. It opened with committee chair Mary Jane Wallner asking the crowd to acknowledge the bombing in Boston.
“What I would like to do first is for all of us to stand and have a moment of silence."
Governor Hassan was the first to testify on the bill. She took the floor to applause. She then quieted the crowd with her own acknowledgment of the Boston attacks.
"On behalf of the people of NH I’ve expressed that out prayers are with the people of Massachusetts and every who was affected by the events yesterday."
Hassan then barreled through a spirited 12 minute sales pitch for the policy that’s so-far defined her governorship.
Senate bill 152 allows for the licensing of one high-end, highly-regulated destination casino that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars.
When she was done, Hassan invited lawmakers to question her on the bill, but not a one of the 45 committee members did.
"Seeing no questions I thank you very much for testifying governor. Good luck with your work."
Much of what followed during the rest of the marathon hearing were mostly familiar arguments. Casino backers like Democratic senator Lou D’Allesandro, pitched the bill as an unadulterated boon for New Hampshire.
"It's an economic recovery jobs creation package. Let me repeat that, An economic recovery job creation package."
Rep David Campbell of Nashua, also a Democrat, meanwhile warned that failure to act will leave New Hampshire the victim of the casinos being built in Massachusetts
"If we do nothing, we will build a funnel on our border and the giant sucking sound you hear will be hundreds of millions of dollars going to fill Massachusetts budget coffers instead of for our own state of New Hampshire budget."
Those opposed to the bill, meanwhile, cast it as a poorly conceived rush job that is too friendly to casino operators.
"Now before you, is a piece of legislation drafted by whom?"
Ann Rice is deputy attorney general.
"Do not be lured by the promise of easy money coming into the state."
Other critics warned that if the casino does raise money, a lot of it will come from people too ill-informed to grasp basic probability. Bob Schnieder is engineer from Claremont.
"I guess I have to cut to the chase and say this bill takes advantage of the poor and the ignorant. It is a regressive tax on the poor and the ignorant."
The casino bill will be getting more scrutiny Wednesday. That’s when the committee will hear experts testify on the proposal. Later three subcommittees begin their work on the bill, focusing on gambling regulation, the revenue aspect of the bill, and the effect a casino would have on local communities. That work begins at 9:30.