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May 15, 2013

Garcia may cast key vote on casino

Salem lawmaker has long opposed expanded gaming

SALEM — Rep. Marilinda Garcia will hold ‘em or fold ‘em today.

The four-term representative is under pressure from constituents and a majority of the Salem legislative delegation to reverse her long-standing opposition to expanded gambling and instead support authorizing a New Hampshire casino.

Potentially at stake for Salem are an estimated 3,000 construction and gaming jobs as well as the future of Rockingham Park.

Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc. has a $600 million-plus redevelopment plan for Rockingham Park, built around a casino complex, and intends to bid for a license.

Garcia is a member of a joint House committee reviewing Senate Bill 152, which would license one casino by bid with local approval.

A committee vote is scheduled for today, with full House debate expected next week.

Garcia, a Republican, won re-election on a platform that included rejecting expanded gaming.

“Opposing state institutionalization of casino and video-lottery gambling as a reliable revenue stream,” was one of her planks promoted on her campaign website. The website said she “stands firm” on the issue.

But that was before Salem voters passed a non-binding referendum supporting a Salem casino by a 4-1 margin at Town Meeting in March.

Garcia has given no indication publicly, either in committee discussions or other venues, that she has changed her mind. Her Twitter account is silent on the question. She did not return a call yesterday.

“She understands the situation. She knows how the people of Salem feel,” said Larry Belair, a member of the NH Casino Now group that is advocating for casino licensing. “Whatever she sees wrong with the bill, she will have to come to terms with the people of Salem.”

NH Casino Now has encouraged casino supporters to contact not only Garcia, but all their Salem representatives, to encourage them in backing the bill, which the Senate passed and the governor wants.

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