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UPDATED: Hassan appoints members to reconstituted gambling commission

State House Bureau

July 31. 2013 11:12AM

CONCORD— Casino gambling proponent Gov. Maggie Hassan hopes to answer one complaint cited by some House members voting against expanded gaming in May: the lack of state regulation and oversight.

Hassan on Wednesday named former state Democratic Party Chairman Kathleen Sullivan of Manchester, Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, and Londonderry Police Sgt. Patrick Cheetham to the reconstituted Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority.

Ames will head the commission, which will make recommendations on gaming policy, oversight and regulation and propose legislation by Dec. 15.

During the 2013 session, Hassan pushed Senate Bill 152, which established one "high-end, highly regulated casino" along the state's southern border with up to 5,000 video-slot machines and 150 table games. The developer would have been required to spend at least $400 million on the facility.

Hassan said the state needs to act to preserve existing revenues and to provide additional money for education, highways and economic development before three casinos and one video-slot machine facility open in Massachusetts.

While SB 152 passed the Senate on a 16-8 vote, the House killed the bill, 199-164, in May after a supercommittee of House Finance and Ways and Means Committee members studied the proposal for nearly a month.

"As our state stands to lose an estimated $75 million per year to Massachusetts casinos, moving forward with New Hampshire's own plan for one highly regulated destination casino will help create jobs, boost our economy and generate revenue to invest in critical priorities," Hassan said. "Over the course of the debate surrounding expanded gambling, some legislators expressed concerns about the state's ability to effectively regulate a casino."

She said her appointments bring the expertise and knowledge to help develop effective regulations.

The prime sponsor of SB 152, Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he intends to introduce a similar bill for the 2014 session that will answer concerns expressed by House members opposed to his bill.

The gambling regulatory commission was originally established in 2010 after a gaming commission appointed by former Gov. John Lynch said the state needs regulations in place before considering expanding gambling.

Money for the commission was included in the fiscal 2012-2013 budget, but was blocked by the Executive Council when it refused to approve spending the money.

The commission was reconstituted and included in the current budget package by House and Senate negotiators and given $250,000 it can spend without Executive Council approval.

Along with studying policy, oversight and regulation, the reformed commission will explore sustaining the current charitable gaming industry.

"I hope it works. I can help," said D'Allesandro. "(House) leadership was against (my bill). We could have had regulation like at the CIA, and it would not have been acceptable."

But he acknowledged the gaming regulations need to be more specific to win over House skeptics.

Ames is a first-term representative who served on the House gambling supercommittee that reviewed SB 152 for three weeks before recommending the bill be killed.

Ames and several other committee members proposed a more stringent regulatory system, but neither the committee nor the House got to vote on the proposal.

Ames is a retired attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School.

Cheetham is a patrol sergeant who has been with the Londonderry Police Department since 2002.

He is also on the board of directors of the New Hampshire Police Association, which backed the gambling proposal this session.

Sullivan, a managing director of the Wadleigh Starr & Peters law firm in Manchester, supported Hassan and her push for casino gambling this session. She is a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Other members of the commission include Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry and a SB 152 co-sponsor, Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, and Attorney General Joseph Foster. The Department of Safety Ccommissioner, the Lottery Commission executive director and the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission director or their designees are also members of the commission.

The commission's first meeting will be Aug. 15 at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building.

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