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March 11, 2013

Salem voters consider casino, school renovations

Some $17M in school renovations also on ballot tomorrow

SALEM, N.H. — When residents go to the polls tomorrow, their vote on whether to support a casino at Rockingham Park could pave the way for expanded gambling in New Hampshire.

Although the vote is nonbinding, Salem residents’ backing of plans at the former racetrack would have a significant impact on whether expanded gambling is allowed in the state, according to Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

Morse has sponsored legislation that could bring up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 tables games to Rockingham Park. The Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 152 in a 4-1 vote last week. The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she would support a single casino in the state. Salem’s five selectmen and Town Manager Keith Hickey all have said a casino would help revitalize the community and reduce property taxes.

“We have to win that casino,” Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves said last week.

Morse said Salem would receive about $13.5 million in annual revenue if a casino is allowed at Rockingham Park. A Las Vegas-based company, Millennium Gaming, has an option to establish a casino at the park if a license is granted.

Millennium would invest $425 million in its redevelopment plan, Morse said, generating millions of dollars in revenue for Salem, the state and surrounding communities. That includes $80 million from the licensing fee alone and at least $100,000 in annual revenue, he said.

“I need a strong vote from Salem to make that go forward,” Morse told selectmen last week. “A positive vote from Salem (March 12) is very important.”

That’s not the only important vote Salem residents will cast.

They will be asked to spend up to $17 million on renovations to Fisk, Soule and Haigh elementary schools only a year after deciding to reject $21.5 million in upgrades to the same schools.

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