A move to permit slot machines at six locations, including the Rockingham Park in Salem, cleared a vital hurdle last week, but still faces a major battle. Senate Bill 489, which is sponsored by Lou D'Allesandro, (D-Manchester), was approved in a 14-10 vote by the Senate on March 24th, 2010. It has been given to the House, which has been known to be very tough on gaming legislation.
State Representatives from Southern New Hampshire said that although the House may be considering slot machines, there are still a lot of members who do not want to entertain the idea of expanded gaming. Rep. Bob Elliott (R-Salem) said that there will be more House Representatives convinced this year that the condition of the state economy is desperate and they do not want to implement more cuts.
But Rep. Elliott said that he don't think that it will be enough. Rep. Roger Wells (R-Hampstead) said that he believes some members are warming up to the idea of gambling as an option to avoid tax increase or budget cuts. But Rep. Wells said that there are many who will never change their views on gambling. Rep Wells said that his position is that if you are not in favor of expanded gambling, then that means that you are in favor of budget cuts.
The House begins deliberations on the bill with a hearing on March 30th, 2010. Beyond the House of Representatives lies an even larger problem-a critical governor. Gov. John Lynch has been hesitant to take a solid position on expanded gaming in the Granite State, but has voiced criticism to this slots bill.
Gov. Lynch's spokesman, Colin Manning, said that one of his concerns from the start has been proliferation. Manning said that last year, there was a proposal for five slots locations and the gaming bill this year expands it to six locations.
The proposal calls for slot machines to be permitted at Seabrook Greyhound Track, Rockingham Park, The Lodge at Belmont, Green Meadow Golf Club in Hudson and two unidentified areas in the North County.
All in all, it would permit for 17,000 slot machines. Manning said that Lynch also does not like the absence of a regulatory oversight in the proposal and wants to wait until a gambling study commission he started last year finishes its work. It is scheduled to release a final report in May 2010.
Manning said that Lynch said that everyone should have a look at that commission report. But time is running out for Rockingham Park, according to Rockingham Park General Manager Ed Callahan. Gaming Revenue at the Rockingham Park has been steadily dropping since the early 1990's and its aging horse stables are on the verge of collapsing.
Earlier this month, live horse racing was canceled for 2010. In Rockingham Park's heyday, it employed more than six hundred individuals and it has contributed more than $330 million in tax and regulatory fees for the state treasury since 1933.
Callahan said that last year, Rockingham Park only produced $2.7 million for the state and it now employs only about 220 individuals.
Callahan said that the state does not owe Rockingham Park anything; he just wants an opportunity to update its offering with the times. Supporters of the gaming legislation paints D'Allesandro's proposal as an option for economic recovery. If slot machines are permitted in the state, Millennium Gaming promises a $450 million renovation of the park and a return to thoroughbred horse racing.
Millenium Gaming said that the proposal would create 3,600 construction jobs in New Hampshire, including 2,000 jobs at Rockingham Park. Millennium spokesperson Rich Killion said that more than one thousand permanent employment opportunities would be created from the proposal. The state would earn the benefits of a thirty-five percent tax on gaming revenue and collect $220 million in initial licensing costs.
A recent change to the bill calls for the first $50 million to go toward the state Department of Health and Human Services. But the director of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, Jim Rubens, said that it will take some time for those licensing fees to come in and the money would not resolve current budget deficits.