EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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May 9, 2013

Full house hears new plans for The Rock

Casino plan impresses crowd, but House tally close

SALEM — Area residents last night praised the redesigned $600-million-plus Rockingham Park casino plan.

But it’s lawmakers who need convincing, even some of Salem’s nine representatives.

A forum at the track drew a standing-room crowd of about 200 and there was strong support for the plan.

But one local lawmaker said four of his colleagues who oppose the plan could be key to the plan’s advancement or demise.

The 48-minute event at times seemed more of a pep rally for House passage of Senate Bill 152, which would license one casino in New Hampshire for $80 million by bid with local approval.

Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, told residents a joint House committee studying the bill is split, with 20 lawmakers in favor, 20 opposed and five undecided. Their recommendation is due next week.

Elliott said the full House vote also is close — as tight as eight votes — and Salem’s divided delegation could make the difference.

There are four no votes in the Salem delegation, according to Elliott. He identified them as Reps. Patrick Bick, John Sytek, Marilinda Garcia and Bianca Garcia, all Republicans.

“Turn them yes and that could make it a winner,” Elliott said.

In an interview later, Elliott said he has no doubt the four lawmakers could be decisive players in the casino debate in Concord.

“This would be a historic moment for the representatives of Salem if this bill passed,” he said.

Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc., which owns an option to buy the track and intends to bid for a casino license, held the forum to showcase new redevelopment plans.

Besides a casino geared to the bill that would allow 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines, the project includes a 300-room hotel, entertainment venue of up to 1,500 seats, a spa and convention space.

Architect David Climans said the project would feature classic New England architecture.

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