New Hampshire’s casino bill faced a grilling Tuesday in the State House, which has always proved a graveyard of casino bills past. And there have been a few.
This is Senator Lou D’Allesandro’s (D-Manchester) 19th attempt to legalize casino gaming in the state, and each successive bill’s annual defeat in the House has become something of a New Hampshire tradition, a bit like Rochester Fair but less fun.
Still, the good senator is nothing if not dogged, and D’Allesandro believes, just as he has each year, almost for the previous two decades, that this is the year to get the business done.
Things did not begin auspiciously for the bill’s hearing at a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee, as evidenced by the presence of the Casino Free New Hampshire group hosting a pre-hearing anti-gambling news conference in the lobby. We suspect, incidentally, that this is how the term “lobbyist” originated.
From there it was mainly downhill.
“Debating another casino bill is nothing but a waste of time,” declared Patricia Lovejoy (D-Stratham), a member of the House Finance Committee and clearly not a fan of D’Allesandro’s work.
“The numbers that have been presented are really pie-in-the-sky numbers,” she claimed, citing the emergence casinos in neighboring Maine and Massachusetts as reasons why the proposed venues in New Hampshire could not realize their projections.
Flogging a Dead Horse Track
She also questioned why D’Alessandro was still plowing this particular furrow when the Rockingham Park thoroughbred racetrack in Salem had now closed.
D’Allesandro’s 19-year devotion to the legalization casino gaming has largely been a crusade to save the historic racetrack, which closed this year after 100 years in business, and is destined to be redeveloped into a mixed-use retail property.
“Rockingham is sold, it’s a done deal,” said Republican Representative Gary Azarian of Salem. “This ship has sailed in my opinion.”
But D’Allesandro believes that economic pressure from surrounding states makes it all the more important that the Granite State legalizes casinos.
“While New Hampshire has done nothing, surrounding states now have gaming entities,” he said recently. “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.”
House of Death
While the D’Allesandro’s bill, which proposes creating licenses for two casinos in New Hampshire, cleared the Senate by a 13 to ten vote, it has once again fallen on deaf ears in the House.
A procession of officials speaking against the bill included tourism industry leaders and Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein. Collectively, they argued that the issue of had been endlessly debated in the past and the argument for legalization was now shakier than it had ever been.
No date has been set for a vote on the House floor, and it doesn’t look good, but don’t expect the indefatigable D’Allesandro to give up, just yet.