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January 19. 2013 11:30PM

Hassan: Mass. casino plans must be weighed in NH decision

CONCORD - Gov. Maggie Hassan says Massachusetts' movement toward licensing three full-fledged casinos and a slot machines-only facility makes it even more vital that New Hampshire lawmakers strongly consider legalizing gambling here.

A report last week by the Center for Public Policy Studies indicated that anticipated revenue from a New Hampshire casino might not be as much as advocates have discussed.

But Hassan, who supports a single "high-end, highly-regulated" casino during her campaign for chief executive, told the New Hampshire Sunday News in an interview the center's report sent an important message.

"What's important about the Center for Public Policy report is that it showed there are a range of revenues that could be collected," she said.

"It depends on the type of facility that we would decide to accept through an open and competitive bidding process.

"But what's very clear from that report is that if we don't have our own high-end, highly regulated casino that can compete with the Massachusetts casinos and draw from that market, we would lose an enormous amount of gambling and rooms and meals tax revenue down to Massachusetts while still having social costs up here that go with gambling.

"So I think the study supports that it would be a very smart and appropriate thing for New Hampshire to do," the governor said.

A bill is being readied by state Sens. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, and Chuck Morse, R-Salem, that would legalize casino gambling in the Granite State.

D'Allesandro said he hopes to bring it to a committee hearing before the end of the month and to the state Senate floor early in February.

He is "optimistic" it will pass the Senate, but believes the House is an uncertainty.

But he said there is no time to waste. "Clearly, there is a real demand in Massachusetts for the licenses," he said.

Eleven firms there put up $400,000 each in nonrefundable application fees for the four sites.

"Those applicants understand it's a good business deal and it would be a good investment for New Hampshire," D'Allesandro said.

"The economic recovery and job creation aspect is constantly in my thought process," D'Allesandro said. "Our unemployment has gone up and we know the economy has remained rather flat.

"The imperative is we have to get going," he said. "Maine has jumped out ahead of us. If we're going to do it, we'll do it right, but we'll do it, hopefully, expeditiously."

D'Allesandro said his bill would allow one licensed facility with up to 5,000 slot machines and a maximum of 150 table games. It also sets up a commission to consider the potential for future additional sites.

Hassan, meanwhile, is preparing her budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015, to be delivered in mid-February.

The only potential revenue from a casino for fiscal 2014 would be from a licensing fee, which D'Allesandro believes could be successfully set as high as $80 million.

But, according to the Concord Monitor, Steve Norton, executive director of the public policy center, told the House Ways and Means Committee last week that expecting even $50 million for a license could be too optimistic now that the Massachusetts application process is under way.

Hassan is prepared to include revenue from a licensing fee in her budget, but not committed to doing that, given the uncertain legislative road ahead.

"Certainly," she told the Sunday News, "if a gambling bill were to pass, licensing revenue would be something that I think we could anticipate."



jdistaso@unionleader.com



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