Tony Bantis, right, looks on as Tim Lutke goes through the motions of dealing Texas Hold'em, a poker variant, during an afternoon training session at Granite State's Poker Room inside the Rockingham Park racetrack in Salem. Long considered a potential site of a casino, time ran out on the track in 2016. (Union Leader file photo)
NH casino gambling bill wins Senate approval, but faces challenge ahead in the House
CONCORD - It may have taken 18 years of effort, but Manchester's long-time state senator got the votes he needed Thursday and his bill to allow two casinos in the Granite State is on the way to the House for consideration.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro's SB 242 had initially cleared the Senate on March 16 in a 13-10 vote, but had been referred to the Finance Committee for further consideration. When that committee tied 3-3 on the measure, it went back to the Senate floor for reconsideration.
This time the bill passed the Senate in a 13-10 vote and now moves on to the House, which has repeatedly turned down casino gambling proposals in the past.
The closest New Hampshire has ever been to legalizing casino gambling was in 2014, when Democrats controlled the House, and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan included casino revenue in her two-year budget.
Despite support from the governor and the Senate, the 2014 bill failed by one vote in the House, 173-172. If he can get his latest bill out of the Senate, D’Allesandro thinks he can make his case to the lower chamber.
SB 242 calls for two casinos: one category one license and one category two license. The Category 1 license costs $80 million and allows for 80 to 160 table games and 2,000 to 3,500 slot machines, while the Category 2 license costs $40 million and allows for 25 to 80 table games and 750 to 1,500 slot machines.
Money would go to the host communities and neighboring towns, and the host county, and would enable the state to resume revenue sharing with cities and towns.
The bill as written prohibits the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards at casinos, and would fund gambling addiction recovery programs.
Attorney General Joseph Foster and the Casino Free NH organization are fighting to block the measure, but while the anti-gambling lobby has been successful in the past, times have changed says the architect of the latest attempt.
The fact that Massachusetts and Maine now have operating casinos only intensifies the urgency for New Hampshire to follow, according to D’Allesandro.
“While New Hampshire has done nothing, surrounding states now have gaming entities,” he said. “They advertise on our TV stations and we send buses of New Hampshire residents to those other states to gamble. It’s time for New Hampshire to do something. No state that has done this has crumbled.”