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April 17, 2013

N.H. House panel hears from both sides of casino plan

CONCORD — A House hearing on a proposed New Hampshire casino yesterday pitted new jobs and revenue against concerns over crime and political influence from the gaming lobby.

Gov. Maggie Hassan told House lawmakers a casino will provide a needed revenue stream for state services.

“With intense competition from Massachusetts looming, the time to move forward is now,” Hassan said.

The governor testified in support of Senate Bill 152 at a crowded hearing in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse attended by about 250 people.

Hassan offered to take questions for 15 minutes, but none of the House lawmakers asked her any.

The Senate-passed bill would license for $80 million one casino, by bid and with local community approval through a binding referendum. The casino would allow up to 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines.

Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc., which has an option to buy Rockingham Park in Salem, intends to bid for the casino license that would require the developer invest $425 million.

“Senate Bill 152 is an economic recovery, job creation package,” Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, a Senate sponsor, told the joint House Ways & Means and Finance Committee reviewing the bill.

Millennium has estimated a casino could create 2,000 construction and 1,500 gaming jobs. Legislative backers say the state could see more than $100 million in revenue annually once a casino opens.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, a Senate sponsor, said New Hampshire will lose revenue to Massachusetts if the Bay State opens casinos and the Granite State doesn’t.

“We want to win,” Morse said. “We don’t want to lose to Massachusetts.”

Morse also pointed to a new poll from the University of New Hampshire showing nearly two-thirds of respondents supporting a casino.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice opposed the bill, warning it could increase crime and pose the potential for political corruption.

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