CONCORD — Hope springs eternal, as does the perennial effort by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro to see a casino gambling bill become law in New Hampshire.
The Manchester Democrat has for years brought casino gambling bills to the Senate only to see them die in the House. The House came within one vote of passing casino gambling in 2014, but defeated the idea soundly, 275-82, in 2017.
This year’s effort by the dean of the Senate looked doomed from the start, when SB 310, authorizing two casinos in the state, was tabled by the Senate after a 13-11 vote against it on March 7.
But in the ensuing two weeks, D’Allesandro managed to convince three senators to swing his way, and on Thursday the bill came off the table and was passed by the Senate in a 13-11 vote.
Senators Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, Melanie Levesque, D-Nashua, and David Starr, R-Franconia, switched from “no” votes on March 7 to “yes” votes on March 21, while Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, switched from “yes” to “no.”
Kahn and Starr canceled each other out, leaving D’Allesandro with the two votes he needed to change the result.
“I think I convinced them that it did have economic value,” said the state’s longest serving senator. He also cited the 3-1 vote by the House earlier in the week in support of legalized sports betting and the expansion of keno after another round of town elections.
D’Allesandro believes the political and economic environment for casino gambling has shifted in his direction.
“I think there’s a growing consciousness of the reality that the gaming business has settled in around us and this may be our last chance to take part if we want to enjoy the economic pluses that can come from this,” he said.
“We all know that Massachusetts facility will be opening up and New Hampshire people will go there. Why not keep them in New Hampshire?”
The bill that passed the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the House authorizes two casinos, a category one and category two.
Category one will require a $40 million license fee, and be approved for 160 tables, 3,500 video lottery machines, and sports betting. The category two license at $20 million would allow 80 tables, 1,500 video lottery machines and sports betting. No entity could hold both licenses.
Legislative staff estimate the potential revenue to the state at $134 million by 2023 and $194 million by 2024.
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, has been arguing against the casino proposals almost as long as D’Allesandro has been arguing for them.
“We will never be able to see a casino to compete with the Wynn in Everett, Mass.,” she said.
“We will only see New Hampshire people at these New Hampshire casinos and it will be like robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking money out of the pockets of our citizens and putting it into government in a process that will have a major impact on tourism and our reputation as a family-friendly state. In the end we will only lose more than will gain.”