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House committee bets against casinos — again

State House Bureau

April 22. 2014 8:50PM

CONCORD — It was déjà vu all over again Tuesday for the latest casino gambling bill to come before the House Ways and Means Committee.

The committee voted 11-9 Tuesday to kill Senate Bill 366, which would have established two casinos with 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games.

The committee vote was identical to its vote on House Bill 1633, which the full House killed last month by about 30 votes.

The House is expected to vote on SB 366 next week.

Casino gambling has twice passed the Senate in this two-year term, but has been killed in the House, which has never voted for casino gambling.

On Tuesday, the committee debate on the bill was much the same as it has been on similar bills.

Supporters of SB 366 said the state needs the money while doing nothing will cost New Hampshire when Massachusetts opens its casinos.

“This bill and the revenue it will produce will not solve our fiscal problems,” said Rep. Dick Ames, D-Jaffrey, who was the prime sponsor of HB 1633 and chairman of the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority. “But it is going to produce revenue.”

But opponents argued casino gambling will lead to corruption and social problems that will ruin families and the businesses that employ problem gamblers.

“I am convinced we are not going to get reliable revenue from this bill,” said committee chairman Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon. “Casinos depend on the money they get off of gambling addicts … and they destroy business and they destroy their families.”

Supporters say SB 366 will produce about $150 million in annual revenue for the state, plus $120 million in licensing fees and require a minimum investment of $450 million in the larger of the two casinos.

Under the bill, the state would receive 35 percent of the gross revenue from the video slot machines and 18 percent of gross table game revenue.

Revenue sharing promise

The bill would also re-establish revenue sharing with cities and towns, which lawmakers ended in 2009 as they struggled to balance the state budget during the recession.

The $25.2 million in revenue sharing was not enough for anyone on the committee to switch his or her vote.

Rep. Frank Saparetto, R-Derry, proposed $37.5 million of the annual revenue from the casino go to highways and bridges to avoid increasing the gas tax, and he wants to use additional money to reduce business tax rates, but that amendment failed on a 14-8 vote.

“Rather than a one-time deal, I would like to see long-term tax reductions,” Saparetto said. “Business taxes generate more revenue than any other tax, and this would generate (additional economic activity).”

But Rep. Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, said he could not support the proposal.

“(This amendment) makes a whole lot of promises of funding with a whole lot of assumptions,” he said. “I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.”

During debate on the bill, several members said SB 366 would help working families and put construction workers back to work and provide more jobs once the casinos are operating.

But others said gambling revenues do not solve the state’s fiscal problems.

“We’re always looking for a silver bullet and typically something comes along,” said Rep. Gilman Shattuck, D-Hillsborough. “This is another silver bullet that will not solve our revenue problems.”

One representative said the state needs to get serious about revenue and pass a broad-based tax. “We’re not able to take care of our people,” said Rep. Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth.

But committee vice chair Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, said lawmakers should not be equating a vote against gambling as an endorsement of a broad-based tax.

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