House Supercommittee Narrowly Rejects Senate-Passed Casino Bill

May 15, 2013

Members of the so-called casino supercommittee spent its morning getting familiar with 17 separate amendments. The proposals ranged from beefing up regulatory oversight, to changing the way casino proceeds would be distributed among towns and counties, to allowing slot machines at any establishment that holds a liquor license.

But when the committee reconvened after lunch, the first motion came quickly, and it was to kill the bill.

“We may be 45 very bright people, but not one of us has a background in gaming.”

That’s Stratham Democrat Patricia Lovejoy. She and other critics stressed that the senate -- with the Governor’s blessing -- sent the house a flawed bill, and that no amount of work would make it worth passing in haste. Here’s Hanover democrat Bernie Benn.

“SB 152, if amended, would not be excellent, and it would not be good for the future of the state.”

But backers said critics miss the point: NH needs money, a casino would provide it -- and jobs. Republican Frank Sapareto of Derry, told colleagues he used to see gambling as unpalatable; not any longer.

“Here is one way of raising revenue that does not tax the public, because they are saturated in taxes, they are, but we still have a fiscal need to raise revenue and we haven’t even addressed the social costs we are about to incur with it happening in Mass. “  

Other backers simply stressed that gambling is what the people want.

“I listened to people in the last election and overwhelmingly there was support for a casino in N.H.”

Demcorat Kathy Rogers represents Concord, and alluding to her own modest upbringing, she asked committee member the committee think what a casino might mean to those in need of work.

“My people lived in places like mobile homes, and tar paper shacks or whatever you will.  To my family the jobs in this would be good jobs, they would be great jobs. “

Moments later the committee voted 23 to 22 in favor of killing the bill.  Several who oppose it say they voted with the minority because they felt amendment should have been freely debated. But the bills staunchest backers stress the important vote is the next one.  Senator Lou D’Allesandro, is the casino bill’s lead author.

“The real game will be played on the house floor and I hope the people of the state of NH rise up and let the people know what they think. That’s the important thing, let the people make the decision.”

Rep Susan Almy, the supercommitee’s vice chair and long a critic of gambling says, decision making for the undecided will be watched closely.

“Well I’ve heard stores of being threatened with primaries, or being offered changes with various bill, coming from all different sides, this isn’t just a problem with just one side but I do think it’s getting in the way of rational decision making, and I don’t know what members of the house who have avoided thinking about this are going to be doing for the next week, but I wish them luck.”

One person thinking hard about gambling will be Governor Maggie Hassan, for whom a casino remains a top priority. After the vote Hassan told reporters she was disappointed committee leaders didn’t debate amendments that might have improved the bill, but even so, Hassan insists things are looking up.

“I think momentum is growing for it, and we will be working very hard to hear the concerns of house members as we go forward this week and make sure we can talk with them about how those concerns are addressed.”

The house could vote on the casino as soon as next week. If the bill fails fails, expect the debate to be revived during state budget negotiations