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March 27. 2014 8:09PM

Casino for NH gets another chance at coming into being

CONCORD — One more bet is being made on casino gambling as the Senate resurrected a bill with two locations and sent it to the House, which defeated a similar bill two weeks ago.

The state Senate Thursday voted 15-9 to approve state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro's gaming bill that would allow two casinos to share 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games, producing an estimated $168 million for the state.

The Manchester Democrat changed the bill to add the regulatory structure and regulations contained in the House bill, developed by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority in the fall.

The new proposal also adds $25.2 million in annual revenue sharing for cities and towns that was proposed as an amendment in the House but never came up after the bill was killed.

"I hope we move forward with a piece of economic recovery and job creation," D'Allesandro said. "This does something positive for every citizen of New Hampshire. Revenue sharing does something for every citizen in the state."

The Senate had tabled Senate Bill 366 earlier in the session while it awaited House action on a separate bill.

That bill, legalizing a single casino with up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games, was killed by the House, 173-144, two weeks ago.

The bill included provisions to protect the Verizon Wireless Arena by limiting entertainment facilities at the casinos to 1,500 seats or less, and also would give charities holding gambling events the same money they receive today. Both provisions are now in D'Allesandro's bill, Senate Bill 366, which would allow for two casinos, one a resort destination casino and a smaller facility about half the size of the other.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has advocated a single "high-end," well-regulated casino in the southern part of the state. It is unclear if she backs the Senate bill calling for two casinos.

During the 10-minute Senate debate on the bill, some senators said casino gambling is the wrong road to do down.

"I urge all of you who really care about the character of this state, who really care about the image of this state and the economic vitality of this state gong forward," said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, "to realize this is not a realistic solution."

After the vote, House members who supported House Bill 1633 praised the Senate's action saying they look forward to being able to discuss revenue sharing, which they could not before the House.

"SB 366 is the first serious legislative remedy to restore revenue sharing payments and is a much needed move to help lessen the burdens of local property taxpayers," said Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston. "I am pleased to see the Senate move forward on a $25 million dollar remedy to the tax challenges our state faces."

D'Allesandro, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and other supporters along with Gov. Maggie Hassan believe the state needs a casino or it will lose upward of $75 million a year in state revenue once Massachusetts opens its casinos.

The bill now goes to the House for action.

grayno@unionleader.com


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