SALEM — A track announcer might say Rockingham Park’s future is at the top of the stretch.
The New Hampshire House rejected casino gaming on Thursday, 173-144. But flip just 15 votes and the celebration is still going on today in Salem.
The casino race is nearing the finish line, yet there remains hope in the saddle.
Another bill in the Senate gives casino backers reason to keep fighting this year. House lawmakers, meanwhile, signaled they could change their minds, defeating a move by a gaming expansion opponent to dismiss further consideration this year.
But there is little ground left to cross in this race.
Should the Legislature reject casino gaming this year, proponents say there might be one more shot next year. But, they concede, The Rock’s time is winding down.
“We know we have until 2015 to solve the problem,” Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, said.
And, if the problem isn’t solved, The Rock’s days could be numbered.
“The future for Rockingham Park is not a bright future without casino gaming,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, sponsor of the Senate bill. “I see the end of Rockingham Park. I see them carving the land up and selling it off.”
There would be developer interest.
“I think the racetrack is one of the most valuable pieces of property in New England,” Salem planning director Ross Moldoff said.
Casino or not, the 170-acre site has a lot of appeal to many.
“That’s a huge parcel of land that has to be developed one way or another,” said Phil Cammarata, a member of Salem-based New Hampshire Casino Now’s executive committee.
That could mean apartments, or commercial or industrial uses, he said.
“It’s zoned for everything,” Cammarata said.
What it could be instead is a massive casino complex with intimate concerts, shows, live horse racing and thousands of jobs. Legislative estimates have projected potential annual state revenues at more than $100 million.