New Hampshire nearly legalized casinos last year when a bill authored by Senator Lou D’Allesandro fell one vote short. Now he is trying again with a bill to authorize two casinos in the Granite State. Last year’s bill had wide bipartisan support as a way to generate revenue without directly taxing citizens. Under the new push for legislation one casino would pay an initial fee of $80 million and the second a fee of $40 million. The premiere casino would host up to 160 gaming tables and 3,500 slot machines, and the next as many as 80 table games and 1,500 slots. The licenses would be up for renewal in ten years and would need local approval to be situated in a town.
Currently only charitable, pari-mutuel and lottery gambling is legal in the state with a ban on commercial and racetrack casinos. The state has no gambling compacts with native tribes. New Hampshire is no stranger to gambling though and was the first state to authorize a lottery back in 1963. This was the first time any local US government had run a gambling operation to raise money. Pari-mutuel betting (horse racing) goes back to 1933 in the state.
If passed in its present form, SB 113 would set a formula to divide casino gambling proceeds between host communities and their counties as well as nearby towns. A problem gambling fund and program would also be created. Senator D’Allesandro estimates about $25 million would provide property tax relief to every city and town in the state through revenue sharing.
The voices opposed to last years plan can still be heard today with cries like “the crack-cocaine of legislative funding” and other aspersions. The Governor, Maggie Hassan is voicing support for at least one new casino and has added keno revenue to her current budget plan.
A bill authorizing keno and expected to generate up to $12 million for the state is being proposed by Representative Lynne Ober. A similar bill passed the house but failed in the senate last year. Restaurants and bars that serve liquor could apply for a $500 annual license to run the games. Keno hours could be from 11am to 11pm if that provision of the bill holds.
D’Allesandro’s bill for this legislative session would seem to have a good chance to pass, but it’s still unknown what the governor would do with bills authorizing keno and 2 casinos under her pen. Senator D’Allesandro has carried or testified for gambling bills at least a dozen times and many have floated across the aisle to be met with failure going back as far as the 1970’s.
Current arguments against the idea of legalizing casinos include statements that gambling revenues are overstated, that gambling cannibalizes other businesses, and that gambling brings negative social problems and increases crime rates. Arguments for legalizing the casinos assert that the state needs the revenue and the alternatives are worse – and that the fear of increased crime rates is overblown – which arguments seem to be backed by data from the FBI as well as the US GAO.