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April 16, 2013

Hassan: Time to act now on casino

CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan told House lawmakers this morning a New Hampshire casino will provide a needed revenue stream for state services.

"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 about 3,000 construction and gaming jobs.

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.

"Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice opposed the bill, warning it could increase crime and pose the potential for political corruption. It would take the state in the wrong direction, she said.

Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, challenged Rice, wondering if her office is willing to accept less money as the state struggles to fund services without expanded gaming.

"If you have a constructive solution, I'm all ears," Sapareto told her.

Dave Lang, president of the Londonderry-based Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, supported the bill, saying revenue is needed for mental health, education and infrastructure.

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