EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 10, 2013

Lots of uncertainty about casino bill's future

CONCORD — Legislative voting records show gambling expansion opponents dominate the joint House panel that will review the Senate-passed casino bill.

But they don’t comprise a majority and the outcome in committee remains in doubt, as it does in the House.

The fate of Senate Bill 152 in the House could hinge on lawmakers with a record of splitting their votes on gambling bills, whose positions are unknown, or whether solidly “no” voters bow to pressure from the governor, Senate and gambling lobby.

“My personal opinion is there is going to be one heck of a debate and a very close vote,” said Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, a supporter of the bill who serves on the joint House panel.

“This is going to come down to a half dozen votes on each side,” Elliott said.

Rep. Mary Allen, R-Newton, agrees with Elliott’s assessment.

“I think it will be a narrow margin,” she said.

Voting records of the committee members tracked by the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling since 2007 show 22 opponents, 14 supporters, two split voters and seven new lawmakers who don’t have a record for those years.

Speaker Terie Norelli has asked the House Ways and Means and Finance committees to jointly review SB 152, which passed the Senate, 16-8, and is backed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

There are 25 Democrats and 20 Republicans on the joint panel, under leaders who have consistently opposed gambling expansion.

Southern New Hampshire has strong representation on the joint committee: 11 of the 45 seats, or about one fourth.

Reps. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, and Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, are House sponsors of the bill.

One of the Republican leaders on the committee is Rep. Norm Major of Plaistow, who has voted against expanded gambling in past sessions.

Past gaming expansion supporters outnumber opponents, 9-2, in the Southern New Hampshire bloc.

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