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May 22, 2013

Casino bill comes to a vote today

Few willing to predict outcome of House casino vote

Salem lawmakers shepherding the Senate-passed casino bill expect a tight vote in the House today, but are optimistic about passage.

“I think we will be successful overturning the committee’s ‘inexpedient to legislate’ so we can listen to amendments,” Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, said.

Rep. Bob Elliott, R-Salem, remains convinced the bill’s fate is in the hands of four Republican Salem lawmakers who have opposed Senate Bill 152 — Reps. Marilinda Garcia, her sister Bianca, Patrick Bick and John Sytek.

“From my sources, what I’ve heard, is we are three votes short,” Elliott said yesterday. “If they stay home, we’ll have a casino.”

The 400-member House has three vacancies, leaving 397 eligible voters. There are 218 Democrats, 179 Republicans. A simple majority vote is needed for passage.

But last week, a joint House committee recommended killing the bill, 23-22. The committee never took up any amendments. Lawmakers say as many as 19 amendments could be considered during debate today.

Senate Bill 152 would license one casino by bid with local approval. It 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, has a $600 million-plus redevelopment plan it estimates could create a combined 3,000 construction and gaming jobs.

The Senate passed the bill, 16-8. It has Gov. Maggie Hassan’s support.

Should the House reject the bill, that may not be the end of discussion.

Former Senate president Arthur Klemm of Windham thinks the Senate could resurrect the casino plan this session in the legislative process.

“I think if it’s a real close vote, the Senate has a position it feels very strong about, I think the issue will continue,” Klemm said. “I think the procedure will allow for it.”

However, Klemm is hoping the House will pass the gaming expansion bill.

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