Gambling bill amendment allows 4 casinos

Posted Feb. 13, 2012, at 9:16 p.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire gambling proponents are doubling down in an effort to avoid potentially losing revenue to Massachusetts.

Amendments to a bill in the New Hampshire House to legalize gambling include licensing four casinos with 14,000 slot machines and 420 table games, as well as lowering the business tax.

With Massachusetts approving licenses for three casinos in November, proponents say New Hampshire must act immediately to legalize gambling or else it could see a drain of tourism dollars and room and meal tax revenue towards its neighbor to the south. The amendment to authorize four casinos would make all the licenses available simultaneously.

The House delayed a vote on the gambling bill last week, saying the amendments first needed a public hearing and consideration. The Ways and Means Committee held the hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Gambling proponents told the committee legalizing gambling this session offers a window of opportunity before Massachusetts can begin building.

“What we have known as the ‘NH advantage’ — the advantage that bring Massachusetts consumers to our state — will rapidly become the ‘Massachusetts advantage,”’ said Democratic Rep. Candace Bouchard from Concord.

Others touted casinos as job generators through their construction, continued operation and the cuts to the business tax that one of the amendments incorporates.

Salem, with its location over the Massachusetts border off Interstate-93, would be the most likely choice for one of two 5,000-slot, 150-card table casino according to many gambling proponents. One of the smaller, 2,000-slot, 60-card table casinos would go to an economically depressed area of the state such as Coos County or certain towns in Cheshire County.

This bill began as a bid to license two slot parlors.

While opposition speakers at the hearing mainly used arguments of social decay and the erosion of New Hampshire’s brand, there have been other concerns about the form of gambling the amendments would institute.

Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt from Manchester introduced his so-called “Your Honorable Compromise” amendment to allow six smaller slot machine state-owned facilities in lieu of what he called “mega complexes.” The plan was presented by Manchester Mayor, and former state senator, Ted Gatsas in 2009 but has never passed a legislative body.

Committee member Rep. David Hess is a longtime gambling opponent, but in his minority report against the committee’s amendment he focused his criticism on what he said was a low, fixed licensing fee for the casinos, low profit sharing, no minimum capital investment and no effective regulation. Though he told The Associated Press he also believed gambling in any form would erode New Hamps hire, the Hooksett Republican said he was arguing the bill put in front of him.

“If you’re going to do this, don’t leave any money on the table. Do it the right way,” Hess told the AP.

Bill passage is in doubt, and both gambling supporters and opponents are scrambling to shore up votes. The House has never passed a gambling bill, and it would require a two-thirds majority if it hopes to override the promised veto by Gov. John Lynch.

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