By John Toole
---- — House lawmakers from Southern New Hampshire are rolling the dice in the state’s casino debate.
Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, a previously undecided lawmaker, said she will oppose a committee recommendation to kill the Senate-passed casino bill to get House debate on proposed amendments.
“I’m going to vote against the ‘inexpedient to legislate’ recommendation, so we can look at amendments and make this a workable bill,” she said.
Till, a freshman legislator, said she wants to see tighter regulation of a casino as envisioned by a gambling study commission under former Gov. John Lynch and to reserve casino jobs for New Hampshire residents.
“I want to see what we can put in this bill to make sure jobs go to people living in New Hampshire, not across the border in Massachusetts,” Till said.
Meanwhile, another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Kevin St. James, R-Kingston, joined other professional firefighters in supporting the bill.
St. James said a more reliable revenue source is needed so the state isn’t downshifting costs to towns and cities.
“This can be a constant revenue source,” St. James said.
Jobs matter, too, he said.
“Obviously, the economy can use any jobs we can get in this state,” he said.
St. James said he, too, will vote to overturn a joint House committee’s recommendation to kill Senate Bill 152, which would license one casino by bid with local approval.
“I’m disappointed the committee came out ‘inexpedient to legislate,’” St. James said. “They didn’t look at any of the amendments.”
He said he wants the House to discuss amendments so SB 152 can be passed.
“It looks like a long Wednesday,” he said.
Speaker Terie Norelli will preside over the debate and at this point doesn’t plan to take a stand during debate.
“Speaker Norelli will be presiding during the debate and will not be speaking on SB 152,” said Ryan Mahoney, her chief of staff.
Till said Norelli has impressed with her handling of the issue.
“She has done everything possible to make sure this bill get the consideration it deserves,” Till said.
She acknowledged there has been intense lobbying of House members over the issue.
“This has been the most heavily lobbied of any bill we’ve considered this year,” she said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan met with Till in her office to discuss her support for the casino bill.
Till said she also has heard from various groups and Derry constituents about the issue.
St. James said he was clear about his support for a casino early on and speculated that is a reason he hasn’t heard much from people about his stand.
Neither Till nor St. James was willing to predict the outcome of tomorrow’s vote.
“I don’t want to bet any money on it,” St. James said.
“I wouldn’t want to place a bet either way,” Till said.