By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — The Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended passage for the Senate gaming bill today, 4-1.
The full Senate is expected to take up the bill as soon as next week.
"We're off to a good start," Sen. Jim Rausch, D-Derry said. "This is great for our area. I am very, very pleased."
There was little doubt Senate Bill 152 would stumble in committee.
Rausch and Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, sponsors of the bill, all serve on the committee, so the odds were in their favor.
They received support from Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia.
Chairman Bob Odell, R-Lempster, opposed the bill.
Rausch said Odell has opposed gaming expansion in the past.
Prospects for passage by the full Senate also are good.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, last week testified in support of the bill, which has bipartisan support.
SB 152 calls for licensing one casino in New Hampshire through a bid process.
The state would receive $80 million through a licensing fee.
Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc. has an option to purchase Rockingham Park in Salem and has made clear its intention to bid for the license, if the Legislature agrees to issue one.
Millennium spokesman Rich Killion called the Senate committee vote a big step forward.
"The growing consensus that now is the time to expand gambling is felt not just in the Senate, but illustrated in well over 60 percent of New Hampshire residents supporting a casino in New Hampshire," Killion said.