Serious betting on the spread for the likelihood of casino gambling in New Hampshire begins this week when the House Ways and Means Committee takes up House Bill 1633, the product of the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority.
The authority, proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan after the House killed Senate Bill 152 last year, developed a regulatory structure for casino gambling overseen by a gaming commission that would regulate all gambling activity in the state: a commercial casino, the state lottery, charitable gaming and horse and dog racing.
Hassan made clear last week when the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted, 4-1, to approve Sen. Lou D'Allesandro's casino gambling bill - Senate Bill 366 - that her focus was on the House bill.
"Governor Hassan is focused on the legislation produced by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, which developed thoughtful, bipartisan recommendations for how to best move forward with and regulate one destination casino in New Hampshire, as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling already taking place in New Hampshire," said her communications director, Marc Goldberg.
Hassan will not testify in favor of the bill, as she did for SB 152 last session, but will submit a letter in support of the bill for Thursday's public hearing, which will begin at 9 a.m.
Unlike D'Allesandro's bill, HB 1633 includes only one destination casino, most likely in the state's southern tier. The bill would require an investment on the part of the casino operator of at least $450 million, exclusive of licensing fee, land purchase and highway infrastructure improvements.
The gaming license would cost $80 million, and the operator would be able to install up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games. The initial operations would have to include 2,000 video slots and 75 table games.
The state would take 35 percent of the profits from the slot machines and 18 percent from the table games, with 1 percent of the state money dedicated to programs to treat gambling addiction. It would be up to lawmakers to determine how much the host community and surrounding communities would receive.
The authority's consultant estimated the plan would produce about $100 million in revenue when the casino complex was fully developed. The House bill has a clearly defined and far more complex regulatory scheme than the Senate bill, which the Senate is expected to approve Thursday and then put on the table to see what happens in the House with HB 1633.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which will have the first shot at the bill, is not that friendly to casino gambling; its chairman, Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, and vice chairman, Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, oppose it, as does Committeeman and House Deputy Minority Leader David Hess of Hooksett, a longtime and vocal opponent. However, HB 1633's prime sponsor and gambling authority chairman, Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, is on the committee, as are other casino supporters.
Whatever the committee does, you can be sure the public hearing on HB 1633 will have more than four people testify, the number that spoke at SB 366's public hearing last week.
We will know what the members of Ways and Means think about the bill before March 20 when it has to decide what its recommendation will be. The House has to votes by March 27.
That assumes the bill makes it past the preliminary vote in two weeks. It may not.
The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority was established to address House members' concerns that SB 152 would not give the state the tools necessary to properly oversee a casino. The authority did yeoman's work to establish the desired regulatory framework, but that may not persuade enough House members to back the plan.
It will be interesting to see what casino proponents and opponents do before the first vote, in about two weeks. Will they spend all their political capital on the first vote, or will they wait for the second vote?
If the bill doesn't pass the first vote, it goes nowhere. That probably means proponents will have to make their push, while opponents can afford to wait until the second vote, which is a couple of months away, giving them more time to make their case. Then again, opponents do not want the bill to gather momentum.
The vote in two weeks may not look anything like the vote in two months.
Regardless, the vote that matters this year - as it did last - will be in the House. About 20 House members are holding all the cards right now because they ultimately will decide whether New Hampshire embraces casino gambling.
Different Outcome: Two and a half years ago the Executive Council voted 3-2 to reject an up to $1.8 million contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to provide health services in its clinics throughout the state. The vote drew national attention at the time.
But last week, with little fanfare, the current Executive Council voted 4-0 to approve a $737,588 contract. The three executive councilors opposing the contract in 2011 are no longer on the council. Ray Wieczorek and Daniel St. Hilaire did not seek re-election and David Wheeler lost to current councilor Debora Pignatelli.
The three councilors said in 2011 their concerns over abortion prompted their action.
The contract approved Wednesday provides the state match for federal Title X money that Planned Parenthood received separately from the US Department of Health and Human Services since 2011.
After the council rejected the contract, the federal Health and Human Services Agency awarded Planned Parenthood a grant to provide essentially the same services in September 2011, which had abortion opponents crying foul. A federal suit was filed to block the action, but was unsuccessful.
"We've come full circle, after a challenging two-and-a-half-year journey that began in June of 2011 when three ideologically-driven Councilors denied health care funding for women and families in nearly half of the regions of the state," said Jennifer Frizzell, Senior Policy Advisor with PPNNE.
Who Has the Money? The Planned Parenthood contract has already become an issue in the special election to replace the late Raymond Burton, who served as the District One Councilor for almost 40 years.
Republican Joseph Kenney of Wakefield has long opposed abortion rights, while Democrat Michael Cryans of Hanover said he would have voted for the contract.
The race, which will be decided Town Meeting Day March 11, should be competitive although the district that stretches from Coos to just north of the Capital area trends Democratic.
Kenney beat former Belknap County Commissioner Chris Boothby and former U.S. Senate staffer Mark Aldrich in the Republican primary.
Cryans, who did not have a primary, has a war chest of $59,952 going into the special election. According to contribution and expenditure reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office, Cryans raised $20,000 in the two-week period leading up to the primary, with $1,000 contributions coming from the Friends of Maggie Hassan and NEA-NH.
Cryans raised a total of $70,153 to date, and spent $10,201.
Kenney has a war chest of $33,975 going into the special election, having raised $14,805 during the two-week period up to the primary election.
Of the $14,805, Kenney loaned his campaign $10,000. Eearlier he loaned his campaign $20,000 and he with his wife contributed $10,000, to account for $40,000 of the $55,715 he raised to date. Kenney has spent $21,739.
The money should be a little easier for Kenney to raise with the primary decided.
Democratic Fundraiser: The state Democratic Party is sending out a blast e-mail today using the movie "Groundhog Day" to prod its members to contribute.
At the top is a picture of Bill Murray holding a groundhog, with three other groundhogs with head shots of Executive Council candidate Joe Kenney, Senate President Chuck Morse and Sen. Nancy Stiles superimposed.
"In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray lives the same day over ... and over ... and over again. For the past 4 years, New Hampshire Republicans have subjected Granite Staters to their own Groundhog Day as they pushed the same out of touch, ideological agenda in Concord over ... and over ... and over again," reads the e-mail, and then asks for contributions.
State of the State: Barring a major snowstorm, Hassan will give her first "State-of-the-State" Wednesday to a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
Governor's like presidents usually use the occasion to tout what was accomplished under their watch and their priorities for the coming year.
"In her State of the State address, Governor Hassan will present her vision for how we can support middle class families, help businesses create good jobs, and keep New Hampshire's economy moving forward by working together on bipartisan solutions to our most pressing challenges," said Goldberg.
One of Hassan's priorities from last year, establishing a high-end casino, remains on the table giving her a second chance to convince House lawmakers of its worth.
Maybe the second time will be a charm.