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April 10. 2013 10:37PM

Gov. Hassan pushes casino plan in State of the State address


Gov. Maggie Hassan addresses members of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce at the State of the State/State of the City breakfast Wednesday. (KATHY REMILLARD PHOTO)

GOFFSTOWN - Gov. Maggie Hassan brought her campaign for casino gambling to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College Wednesday, warning that the state is at a crossroads.

"I am concerned that people understand, we are really at a tipping point with the state budget," she told a crowd of business leaders gathered for the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce's annual State of the State address. "We have to confront the fact that we need more revenues, and the licensing fees (from a casino) are the way to do it."

She said the House budget passed last week without licensing fee revenue "demonstrates the impact of no casino," and relies too heavily on hospital taxes that are being challenged in court.

Approval of one high-end, highly regulated casino is still a viable option, she said, given Senate support and the fact that the House budget bill includes language that says cuts can be restored if gambling is approved.

"I hope you will reach out to your legislators and my office as the process moves forward," she said.

When asked whether she was concerned about the impact on existing entertainment venues in the state "because of a casino in Salem," the governor responded that a casino, if approved, is "not predestined to be in any one place, just somewhere along the Massachusetts border."

She referred to the query as "the cannibalization question," and said those fears are exaggerated.

Limits could be imposed on the number of restaurant seats or hotel rooms a casino is allowed, she said, to prevent significant impacts on nearby hotels and eateries.

Venues like Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena or the Music Hall in Portsmouth compete for a different audience and offer a different experience, she said. "The markets are very different. No casino will have the capacity of the Verizon arena, and the entertainment at a casino would be nothing like what's offered at the Music Hall. I think there's room for all of this."

The alternative, she told the group, was to sit by and let Massachusetts launch three casinos that will draw resources from New Hampshire and leave the Granite State to deal with the social costs.

"Do we want to compete, or do we want to see our rooms and meals tax revenue go to Massachusetts?" she said.

The governor has pegged many of her policy priorities on the licensing fee from one casino, which she said would be paid in time to affect the next two-year budget.

Without casino money, she said, the state will not be able to achieve a tuition freeze at UNH and community colleges, will not be able to fund needed improvements to the state's mental health system, and will lose ground on needed infrastructure upgrades.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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