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April 29, 2014

Casino debate resumes in N.H. House

House to consider Senates 2-casino bill

CONCORD — Some lawmakers are betting the odds of approving casino gambling increased with the state’s recent bad financial news. The odds may even be doubled. Supporters are urging House members to back a Senate plan for not one, but two casinos.

While agreement on expanded gaming and one vs. two casinos is far from unanimous, most lawmakers need the state needs to find some revenue — a substantial amount.

Earlier this month, a Hillsborough Superior Court judge ruled the state’s Medicaid Enhancement Tax unconstitutional. That decision created a really big hole in the state’s budget — costing as much as $185 million in lost revenue this year alone.

Then there was the bad news from Standard and Poor’s, downgrading the state’s bond outlook from stable to negative.

The financial services firm cited the MET decision, “significantly” underfunded pension funding levels and a too-small Rainy Day Fund when issuing its report.

Yesterday, gambling supporters urged the House to pass a Senate bill authorizing the state to issue two casino licenses to raise money. The House will take it up tomorrow and the debate is expected to be lengthy.

A House committee split 11-9 in recommending the House kill that Senate-passed bill. A close House vote is expected.

The Senate bill proposes legalizing two casinos with a total of 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games.

Last month, the House killed a bill that would have legalized one casino licensed for 5,000 video slot machines. The bill would distribute $25 million of the profits in aid to communities to provide property tax relief.

“It looks pretty good,” said Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, one of the leading proponents for casino gaming in the House.

Unlike a bill the House previously rejected, Elliott said this one includes many improvements critics have demanded, such as strict regulation, protection of charitable gaming and the opportunity for a second casino.

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