EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 8, 2013

Salem official speaks about casino plan to lawmakers

Casino developments

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM — A New Hampshire House subcommittee studying potential community impacts from casino development finally turned to the community this week.

Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride said lawmakers on Monday invited selectmen to appear before the panel to share Salem’s views.

“We’re very happy to provide input,” McBride said.

Selectman Stephen Campbell was representing the board at the Statehouse yesterday.

“We were fortunate someone could make it,” McBride said.

The Community Impact Subcommittee has been meeting for a couple of weeks, but primarily focused on hearing from experts, not local officials, even though Salem is a certain contender for host community if the Legislature decides to license a casino.

Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc. has an option to purchase Rockingham Park and has said it is prepared to pursue the proposed $80 million license.

The company has redevelopment plans for the race track now pegged at more than $600 million, that would include a 300-room hotel and an entertainment venue with up to 1,500 seats.

McBride said Campbell was going to report to the subcommittee on Salem’s experiences with gambling, which the community has hosted at The Rock since the early 1900s.

He also said selectmen planned to relay the results of the community’s passage, by a 4-1 margin, of a nonbinding referendum at Town Meeting in support of a casino.

“That referendum was the second biggest voter turnout, for Town Meeting, in the history of the town,” McBride said.

Selectmen also are asking lawmakers to see Salem gets the 3 percent share in gaming revenues Senate Bill 152 proposes for the host community.

“We certainly don’t want to eliminate the host community fee,” McBride said. “That is a major component in selling this to the whole community.”

The Senate has passed SB 152, which has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan. The House is now reviewing the bill.

The bill calls for licensing one casino by bid with local approval. The casino would have up to 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines. A casino developer would have to invest at least $425 million.

Millennium tonight is unveiling new plans for the Rockingham Park redevelopment. A Town Hall-style meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Rockingham Park. The plans include the return of live horse racing and the continuation of simulcast races.

Millennium co-CEO Bill Wortman has said the new plans likely will mean an increase in the 2,000 construction and 1,300 gaming jobs the company anticipated under the old redevelopment plans.

Today, officials from Washington County in Pennsylvania are scheduled to be in Concord to speak to lawmakers about their experiences with a Millennium-run casino.

Casino opponents, meanwhile, continue to press their case.

The Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, as Millennium’s new plans for The Rock emerged, warned developers would do anything to get licensed.

“Casino developers consistently over promise delivery dates, casino amenities, tax revenue and regulatory compliance to get casinos legalized and to win licenses,” coalition chairman Jim Rubens said.

The group called for changes in the bill to protect the state’s interests, including requiring a bond or irrevocable letter of credit for completion of a casino, disclosure of potential infrastructure costs and requiring construction of permanent facilities before a casino is allowed to operate.