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May 1, 2014

Vote casts doubt on casino at The Rock

Three Salem representatives voted against casinos

CONCORD — Plans to establish a multi-million-dollar casino at Rockingham Park in Salem were dashed once again yesterday when legislation to allow expanded gambling in New Hampshire was defeated by a single vote.

The House voted, 173-172 to kill Senate Bill 366, which would have permitted two casinos, 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games. Deputy Speaker Naida Kaen, D-Lee, cast the deciding the vote.

A motion to reconsider the vote May 7 was filed after the two-hour session, lawmakers said.

There were feelings of bitterness and anger in Salem yesterday as some of the town’s eight state representatives called out three of their colleagues for not supporting the bill.

“Shame on them,” said Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem. “I thought we would need 15 votes, but we only needed one.”

Elliott and other officials from Salem chastised Republicans Marilinda Garcia, Bianca Garcia and Patrick Bick for not backing the bill.

The supporters said approving expanded gambling and opening a casino at the former racetrack would bring millions of dollars in annual revenue to the state and community.

Backers of casino legislation claim New Hampshire will lose out on valuable revenue to casinos opening up in Massachusetts. The bill proposed distributing $25 million in casino revenue to communities as property tax relief.

Last year, a nonbinding vote of Salem residents showed 81 percent of those who cast ballots in the March election supported a casino in town.

“I’m very, very disappointed,” said Rep. Ronald Belanger, R-Salem. “It tells people here to drive down to Massachusetts and spend your money there. It’s an economic loss to New Hampshire.”

Rockingham Park president and general manager Edward Callahan also was disappointed in the outcome, criticizing the three Salem representatives who voted against it.

“It was pretty close — just one vote,” he said. “Maybe a few state reps in Salem won’t be re-elected this fall.”

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