CONCORD – A standing-room-only crowd packed a legislative hearing yesterday on the Senate’s gaming expansion bill as Gov. Maggie Hassan joined Salem area business and civic leaders pushing for passage.
Their allies included North Country officials and building trades unions hoping to realize economic benefits from a New Hampshire casino development.
Opposition came from chiefs of police and the attorney general, worried over crime and political corruption, and long-time gaming foes who see a casino as a threat to New Hampshire’s quality of life.
Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc., which has an option to buy Rockingham Park in Salem, said it is prepared to pay the proposed $80 million licensing fee if the state awards the company the right to run a casino.
Potential rivals to Millennium, including the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and operators of the Green Meadow Golf Club in Hudson, appealed to lawmakers to keep the licensing process fair and open to multiple venues.
The Statehouse hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee lasted about three hours.
The panel took testimony on Senate Bill 152, the bipartisan proposal from Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D-Allesandro, D-Manchester, that would permit a single casino in New Hampshire with up to 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines.
The bill establishes a bid process, regulation and enforcement under the Lottery Commission and state police, plus local voter approval.
Morse, who joined D’Allesandro and Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, another co-sponsor, in outlining the bill for reporters, said the host community would get 3 percent of revenues and abutting communities would share in 1 percent.
Rausch said the bill protects charity gaming by benchmarking 2012 revenues for those charities and requiring the casino make up the difference in the event of future losses for them.