Casino supporters are betting that a plan to distribute more than $25 million in gambling revenue to New Hampshire cities and towns will convince House lawmakers to reverse their historic opposition to expanded gaming.
Less than a month after it killed a casino bill favored by Gov. Maggie Hassan, the House will begin discussion on Senate Bill 366, which proposes to authorize two casinos in the Granite State.
The bill, which will be heard by the House Ways & Means Committee at 10 a.m. Thursday, envisions a “destination” casino with 3,500 video slot machines and 160 table games and a smaller facility with 1,500 video terminals and 80 table games.
Sponsored by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, the Senate bill passed the full Senate by a 15-9 vote in late March. According to the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, it would generate $168 million in revenue for the state, along with about $125 million in licensing application fees.
But the big carrot is an amendment tacked on by D’Allesandro to share the proceeds with every municipality in the state. That would mean as little as $171 for tiny Hart’s Location, to nearly $4 million for Manchester.
At least two towns have adopted resolutions urging the House to pass SB 366, including Somersworth, which stands to see about $390,000 in additional funding.
After the City Council unanimously approved the resolution Monday night, Somersworth Mayor Dana S. Hilliard issued a statement calling casino gambling “a prudent measure” that would put a halt to the downshifting of services to local and county governments.
“In 2010 when the Legislature took away the revenue sharing funds that went back to local communities, tri-city communities were instantly faced with a cumulative shortfall of over $1.5 million per year,” Hilliard said. “This is the time to act to ensure New Hampshire can take advantage of this significant revenue opportunity.”
Under SB 366, table games would be taxed at 14 percent, with the income going to the state’s school districts.
The tax on slot revenue would be 30 percent, with 45 percent of the proceeds earmarked for the state’s 10-year transportation plan, which currently has no funding in place for some $750 million in major projects, including I-93.
Another 45 percent would go toward higher education, with $10,000,000 set aside specifically for scholarships in STEM studies - science, technology, engineering and math.
Host towns would receive 3 percent, with nearby towns splitting 2 percent. Another 1 percent would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to treat problem gaming. Ten percent would be earmarked for economic development in the North Country.
Like the failed House bill, SB 366 proposes a new regulatory system, based on recommendations by the New Hampshire Regulatory Oversight Authority. Under that system, a gaming commission would oversee all gambling in the state, with separate divisions in charge of the lottery, casinos, and racing and charitable gaming.
Casino operators would be required to provide space for charitable gaming, as well as compensate charities that hosted gaming in fiscal year 2012 for any money they lost due to competition from the new casinos.
Casino opponents, led by Casino Free New Hampshire, say the two-casino bill validates what they have been saying all along - that, once allowed, the number of casinos are bound to proliferate.
At a press conference earlier this week, Concord businessman Steve Duprey, spokesman for the group, called revenue sharing a "false promise" because future legislatures could repeal it. And he warned that casinos breed social and economic problems for residents.
“It will cannibalize existing businesses," he said. "It has the crime, addiction, social costs. It doesn’t raise that much revenue. Every state that’s done casinos gets more addicted.”
D’Allesandro, Hassan and other supporters argue that, unless lawmakers agree to legalize casino gaming, New Hampshire stands to lose tens of millions of dollars to Massachusetts, which is in the process of issuing licenses for three casinos and a video slots parlor.
The bill does not address where the casinos would be located, although Salem would be the likely choice for the larger facility.
Las Vegas-based Millenneum Gaming already holds an option to buy the Rockingham Park, and a year ago, the company unveiled plans for a full-scale destination resort at the site that includes a hotel, spa and convention center.