It would be impossible for New Hampshire to come closer to legalizing casino gambling without actually doing it – following a two-hour debate, the state’s two-casino bill was killed off in the House last week by one vote, just one month after its one-casino bill was rejected by 29 votes, and 12 months after the one before that. Deputy Speaker Naida Kaen, who was presiding over the session, cast the deciding vote following a 172-172 tie.
The bill would have paved the way for two gaming licenses for which operators would compete in a bidding process. With regulations drawn up by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, it hoped to generate $25 million in revenue-sharing for towns and cities, and a recent poll by the University of New Hampshire suggested that the majority of residents were in favor of casino gambling.
Two casinos in full operation would bring in $168 million for the state, it’s estimated, and the Granite State needs the money more than ever, now that its controversial “hospital tax” has been ruled unconstitutional, leaving a $185 million hole in the state budget.
A New Hope
It’s understood that 17 representatives who voted against last month’s bill changed their minds this time around, largely because it was tagged onto a bill to decriminalize marijuana, which they supported. Likewise, 42 representatives were marked as absent, presumably because they weren’t so keen on the marijuana bit. It’s also believed that some representatives motioned to kill the bill so amendments could be debated and a renewed bill drawn up.
For the prime sponsor of the bill, Manchester Democrat Lou D’Allesandro, this is enough to inspire hope. A motion has already been filed to reopen debate on the bill, and D’Allesandro thinks it has a good chance of being passed next time.
“While I am disappointed in the rejection of this bill today, which would have allowed for private investment that would stimulate economic growth and job creation, I remain hopeful that a different outcome might still be possible,” D’Allesandro said in a statement.
Not everyone was so thrilled by the idea of a reconsideration of the bill, however.
“I feel like this is deja vu all over again,” groaned Hopkinton Democrat Rep Gary Richardson, tautologically. “We had this debate a month ago, but the problems have not gone away.”
Good News for Massachusetts
One thing’s for sure: the big winner – for now – is Massachusetts, whose own burgeoning casino industry would be damaged by legalization in neighboring New Hampshire. Last year, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said he was concerned about the effect New Hampshire casinos might have on the Boston market, adding that he believed it was “inevitable” that a casino would open in Salem.
“It’s a victory, because it looks like that state isn’t quite ready to make the plunge,” said the Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College gaming expert. “It would help Boston … people in New Hampshire are much more likely to come to the Boston area instead of heading all the way down to Connecticut.”
And with the New Hampshire bill plunged into uncertainty, it will now give Wynn Resorts and the Mohegan Sun less to worry about as they fight for the remaining Massachusetts casino license.
“It certainly makes both of them happy that there’s one less competitor,” agrees McGowan. “It won’t really help the facility in Western Massachusetts, but it will certainly be a boost in Boston.”