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May 19, 2013

Casino bill up for House vote this week

Casino bill's future uncertain in vote Wednesday

New Hampshire casino backers hope a full House is a winning hand this week.

The Senate-passed casino bill, supported by Gov. Maggie Hassan, is up for action Wednesday.

Last week, a joint House committee narrowly recommended killing Senate Bill 152 on a 23-22 vote.

But the closeness of that outcome, given initial expectations the joint House committee was a stacked deck in opposition, is giving proponents hope.

“The plan is to take this to the floor of the House, overturn the committee’s ‘inexpedient to legislate’ and pass it,” Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, said.

There is a big difference in the betting lines on this issue.

Rep. Bob Elliott, R-Salem, one of the early oddsmakers, said the decision could be as tight as eight votes, with Salem’s split delegation potentially deciding the bill’s fate.

Others see the House rejecting the bill by a comfortable margin. Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, late last week projected a 62-vote defeat on his blog.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, a casino advocate, agrees with Vaillancourt the bill will lose because of differences among lawmakers about potential amendments.

There are as many as 19 amendments, Elliott said, though it’s unclear how many the House will take up. Proponents are working behind the scenes to coordinate interests and limit amendment discussion to strengthen their hand.

“We know it’s a tough sell,” Sapareto said.

The critical amendment is what Azarian calls “the omnibus.”

Azarian, one of the amendment co-sponsors, said it addresses concerns, especially regulatory, raised during committee review.

“This tightens up all of the regulations and answers all the questions the committee has had,” Azarian said.

But even Sapareto would rework that amendment to reduce from 3 percent to 1 percent Salem’s share of gaming revenues.

Sapareto would shift some of the revenues to county government, reasoning Salem would benefit immensely from property taxes and jobs if Rockingham Park gets the casino.

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