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March 11. 2013 8:15PM

Gov. Hassan says NH casino funding could top out at $100M

MANCHESTER - Gov. Maggie Hassan told a statewide group of business leaders Monday that approval of one, highly regulated casino in New Hampshire will probably bring in more than the $80 million in licensing fees predicted in her budget proposal for the next two years.

"Given what we've seen in the bidding for Massachusetts, it could be more like $100 million," she said at a luncheon hosted by the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association at the Radisson Hotel.

"We've got to acknowledge what's coming to our backyard," she said, referring to the Bay State, where 11 companies are bidding for three licenses to operate slot parlors and casinos.

"With Massachusetts moving forward, we can no longer pretend that expanded gambling isn't coming to our communities. It is, and if we don't act, revenues from New Hampshire residents will fund Massachusetts needs, while we still bear the social costs."

She said the state could lose $75 million a year in social costs and lost revenue if it does nothing to counter the expansion of gambling in neighboring Massachusetts.

Failure by the state Legislature to approve the casino plan would leave a gaping hole in Hassan's budget. Revenue estimates from existing sources show growth of only 2 percent or less per year.

"That won't deliver what we need to do the basics," she said. "Without the $80 million from one casino, I believe some of our most important priorities, like restoring funds to our universities and community colleges, addressing our strained mental health system and protecting our natural resources, will be among the first items cut."

Hassan was applauded when she expressed her support for doubling the funding for the state's research and development tax credit. The state Senate unanimously approved increasing the funding from $1 million to $2 million, with a House vote expected this week.

She touched on several initiatives of interest to the business association, including restored funding for the university and community college systems, initiatives to promote education in science and technology and grants to help school districts launch robotics teams to compete in the FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

The governor used the words innovative or innovation 20 times in her 20-minute speech.

"I believe the approach that we have taken puts our state on the right path and will help set the foundation to build a more innovative economy," she said. "Because we cannot afford to ignore our challenges and just assume the good jobs of the innovation economy will simply appear. We must lead the way and work together to build a stronger, more innovative New Hampshire."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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