UPDATED: House kills two-casino bill by 1 vote
CONCORD — The Deputy Speaker of the House had to cast the deciding vote, but the House voted 173-172 to kill casino gambling for the third time in two years.
The bill will be reconsidered next Wednesday after Rep. Mario Ratzki, D-East Andover, filed for reconsideration after the session. Someone who voted to kill the bill had to ask to reconsider the vote.
Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, said lawmakers should not kill the bill without first fully debating the issue and its eight proposed amendments, although he does not support casino gambling.
Casino gambling has twice passed the Senate in this two-year term, but has been killed in the House, which has never voted for casino gambling.
“We live to fight another day,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, after the House session.
Senate Bill 366 would have established two casinos with 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games.
Bill supporters said the state needs the money for programs and insist doing nothing will cost New Hampshire when Massachusetts opens casinos. And they said the recent court ruling that the Medicaid Enhancement Tax is unconstitutional has created a fiscal crisis.
“We need the money and we need it now,” said Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough. “We are in a crisis.”
Opponents said the ruling should not be a reason to vote for casinos.
“There is an attempt to use the MET decision to promote casino gambling,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord. “This is not a time to panic and create more damage through unintended consequences.”
Other opponents argued casino gambling will lead to corruption and social problems.
“The negative ripples through our businesses and our families cannot be prevented,” said Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham. “It’s too high a price to pay.”
Proponents say SB 366 will produce about $150 million in annual revenue for the state, plus $120 million in licensing fees and require a minimum investment of $450 million in the larger of the two casinos.
And they said, jobs will be created and investment will come to the state.
Under the bill, the state would receive 35 percent of the gross revenue from the video slot machines and 18 percent of gross table game revenue. One amendment would increase the state tax to 40 and 20 percent.
Revenue-sharing with cities and towns — which lawmakers ended in 2009 as they struggled to balance the state budget during the recession — would be re-established under SB 366.
But Lovejoy said the $25.2 million in revenue-sharing is a promise that may not be kept if the state runs into troubled financial waters in the future.
Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, disagreed, saying the only hope for restoring revenue-sharing is the gambling bill.
“This looks to me like the only game in town,” Weyler said. “This bill will have something for everyone and restore something we would all like to see and that’s revenue-sharing.”
He noted the only other options are an income or a sales tax. If gambling is so disastrous, why do 41 other states have some form of casino gambling, he asked
Others warned if lawmakers pass casino gambling, it would never be rescinded.
“If we adopt gambling,” said Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, “there is no going back, my friends.”
And he and others argued that the bill raises constitutional issues as it gives license holders a monopoly.
Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, noted the arguments had changed little from a month ago.
“I suspect if you have heard everything said today,” Hess said, “you’ve heard it more than once.”
House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, was out of state Wednesday at a National Conference of State Legislators event. Deputy Speaker Naida Kaen, D-Lee, was in the chair and cast the deciding vote to kill SB 366.