By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — The New Hampshire Senate passed a casino bill this morning on a strong, 16-8, bipartisan vote.
Senate Bill 152 would license one casino, by bid, that would require the operator to pay an $80 million licensing fee sponsors say could be used in the state budget now taking shape.
"The Senate has sent a strong, bipartisan message today about how we can come together to fund our priorities, a message that echoes what I have heard from people and communities throughout New Hampshire," Gov. Maggie Hassan said.
Hassan supported the bill and thanked Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D-Allesandro, D-Manchester, for their work. Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, also was a key Senate backer.
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, supported the bill. Sen. Russ Prescott, R-Kingston, opposed it.
Hassan said a casino will provide revenue to fund higher education, economic development, public safety and mental health.
Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc., which has an option to buy Rockingham Park in Salem, intends to bid for the license if the Legislature approves a casino.
Salem voters, in a nonbinding referendum earlier this week, supported a casino by a 4-1 margin.
The outcome in the House remains in doubt and opponents of gaming expansion intend to put up their fight there.