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March 15, 2013

Senate OKs casino, House outcome uncertain

House fight looms

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Senate yesterday approved a casino licensing plan that could put $80 million into the state budget for the next two years.

Senate Bill 152 had the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan and passed on a strong, bipartisan vote of 16-8. It now moves to the House, where expanded gaming opponents have long intended to stage their fight.

The bill is expected to face opposition in the House not only from lawmakers who oppose gaming, but also from some who would prefer the state license more casinos and others who want the state to fund programs with income or sales taxes.

“The Senate has sent a strong, bipartisan message today about how we can come together to fund our priorities, a message that echoes what I have heard from people and communities throughout New Hampshire,” Hassan said.

Hassan praised the work of Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who led the Senate fight. Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, also was a key supporter.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, voted for the gaming expansion bill. Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, voted against the bill.

“Without this revenue and without beginning to restore the devastating cuts of the last budget, we will risk failling behind economically,” Hassan said, “we will risk losing out on good jobs and innovative businesses, and we will risk letting the people of our state be denied access to the basic services needed to support their health and safety.”

The bill calls for licensing one casino, by bid, for $80 million. That revenue would go into the budget and advocates say the money will be used to pay for highways, colleges and economic development.

The casino is expected to generate more than $100 million per year in gaming revenue for the state once it comes online, though one critical study has said competition from Massachusetts would hurt revenues.

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