Gov.Maggie Hassan New Hampshire casino bill

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan – seen here in May of last year – was a supporter of the defeated casino bill (Image: ALEXANDER COHN / Concord Monitor)

When it comes to casino gambling, the house always wins. But in some cases, that doesn’t necessarily refer to the casino itself. New Hampshire’s House of Representatives voted down a bill that would have allowed the state to license a single casino in the state, continuing a tradition of the House voting down casino proposals in the Granite State.

The vote, which came on Thursday, was one that promised to have a closer outcome than previous bills on the subject. The regulations that would have been put into place would have been more extensive than in a similar bill last year, while the limits on the size of the casino – up to 5,000 slots and 150 table games – would have been nearly the same. But in the end, the anti-casino forces won out by a comfortable margin of 173-144.

Governor Supported Gambling Bill

That was a defeat for Governor Maggie Hassan, who had backed the casino bill. Supporters of the bill had argued that now was the time to add casino gambling to the state, as they stood to lose out on a large amount of revenue when neighboring Massachusetts began opening casinos in the not-too-distant future.

Those opposed pointed to the long-standing traditions of New Hampshire, which had never encompassed casino gambling. They worried about the social costs of expanded gambling, and said that there may be better ways to raise revenues than adding a casino, which could change the image of the state. That last issue was a particularly contentious one: some said that the state’s image as a cozy, quiet resort center full of romantic bed-and-breakfasts could be sullied by the addition of a major casino, while advocates for the casino pointed out that other states had successfully added land gaming without making it the face of their state per se.

According to lawmakers in favor of the casino, the annual revenues from the venue could have been as high as $105 million – significant for a small state. They suggested integrating the casino into the state’s current reputation as a tourist destination.

“This is another draw to our state,” argued Representative Frank Sapareto.

Casino Loses to Antagonists

But in the end, the anti-casino votes won out. In particular, many feared that adding a massive bank of slot machines could generate a large number of problem gamblers, pointing out that those games were the ones most associated with gambling addiction.

“What is it us anti-casino types have against casinos? It is the slot machines,” said Representative Patricia Lovejoy.

While the vote may not have gone her way, Governor Hassan continued to argue in favor of a future casino for the state, hoping that eventually lawmakers could find a solution that worked for everyone.

“Despite today’s vote, I continue to believe that developing our own plan for one high-end casino is the best course of action for investing in the priorities that are critical to long-term economic growth,” Hassan said in a statement. “Soon, we all will see the impact of Massachusetts casinos right across our border in the form of lost revenue and potential social costs.”

There is a Senate casino bill that passed earlier this year that could still be sent to the House for a vote, but the odds of it passing the House are slim. The two legislative bodies have disagreed on how to fund costs, such as for an expansion of Interstate 93: while the House passed a gas tax bill last year, the Senate rejected the measure, while the opposite has been true of casino proposals.