EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 10, 2013

N.H. officials return to casino discussion

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — Rockingham Park and Salem officials could testify before a state commission studying casino regulations this week.

The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority will hold a public hearing Thursday in Concord, as it works toward a Dec. 15 deadline for issuing recommendations to the Legislature.

“We are going to be there,” Rockingham Park president and general manager Ed Callahan said yesterday.

The track’s message to the authority will be that 41 states have regulations and some type of gambling commission, most of which have been successful, Callahan said.

“The key to all this is finding regulations that work somewhere and adapt them to New Hampshire’s revised statutes,” he said.

Whether a casino in New Hampshire is regulated under the existing Lottery Commission or a new gambling commission, Callahan said, he doesn’t see a problem with it.

The biggest challenge for the authority at this point, he said, is devising regulations without knowing exactly what type of casino the Legislature would approve.

Salem Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. planned to bring up the hearing at last night’s selectmen’s meeting.

“I’d think we should have somebody there,” McBride said.

Callahan said he’s sure authority members by now are well aware that Rockingham Park and the town are ready to host a casino, should the state choose to authorize one.

Salem residents supported casino gaming by a 4-1 margin in a nonbinding referendum at Town Meeting.

Rockingham Park officials have said they are prepared to bid for a casino license.

Las Vegas-based Millenium Gaming Inc., which has an option to buy the track, has plans for a $600 million-plus casino development, including a hotel, that would create an estimated 3,000 construction and gaming jobs.

The Senate, with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s support, this year passed legislation that would have let the state award a single casino license by competitive bid.

But the House later rejected the casino plan. One reason lawmakers cited was concern the state didn’t have a regulatory mechanism in place.

Some lawmakers complained the plan favored Rockingham Park as the location, while others wanted more than one venue.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, intends to sponsor a casino bill for the upcoming session.

“We will be trying to address the oversight concern that everybody had,” D’Allesandro said.

His bill also would let the state, in time, license a second casino, D’Allesandro said.

That would respond to concerns among lawmakers that the state would create a monopoly situation with just one casino, he said.

Hassan supported the casino plan last session because it called for just one casino.

D’Allesandro said he hasn’t spoken with the governor about this revision, but is willing to do so and explain why a second venue is important for legislative support.

He also expects to check in soon with his casino co-sponsors, Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, who has supported having a casino to generate funding for highway projects, and Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

Morse recently was elected president of the Senate.

“That helps,” D’Allesandro said.

Casino gaming opponents intend to renew their opposition, but not at this week’s hearing.

“We’ll be there watching and listening,” said Henry Veilleux, a lobbyist for Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.

Taking a position on casino regulation is premature, he said, because the Legislature had rejected it.

“The coalition continues to oppose the introduction of casino-style gambling in New Hampshire,” Veilleux said.

The coalition will continue to lobby the House to oppose casino gaming, he said.

The House rejected casino gambling for many more reasons than just regulatory worries, he said.

“It’s the same Legislature,” Veilleux said.

The authority’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in Rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Statehouse.