EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

June 12, 2012

Salem selectmen support casino at The Rock

SALEM — Selectmen are willing to bet a casino would revitalize Rockingham Park.

The board voted unanimously last night to work with Rockingham Park officials to help bring expanded gambling to the former horse track.

Edward Callahan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park, asked selectmen for their support of a plan to establish a casino.

But first, the Legislature must vote to allow expanded gambling in New Hampshire.

Repeated attempts to legalize casinos have been defeated by lawmakers, with the latest bill killed by the House of Representatives in March.

Callahan told selectmen the election of a new governor this fall may lead to approval of casinos. Current Gov. John Lynch has opposed casino gambling.

"Hopefully, that will change some of the direction of our Legislature," Callahan said. "We are hopeful that the town would also look to move forward."

Salem officials have long supported casino gambling as a way to boost Rockingham Park and the local economy.

So selectmen weren't hesitant to reiterate their support last night.

Chairman Patrick Hargreaves recommending sending a letter to gubernatorial candidates to show the town's support for a casino. The board also considered a nonbinding referendum so residents can take a stand on the issue.

Salem voters supported a casino in 1994 and 2003, Callahan said.

Approval of expanded gambling in Massachusetts last year threatens plans for casinos in New Hampshire, he said.

"We feel the window is beginning to close," Callahan said.

Rockingham Park lost half of its business when Foxwoods Resort Casino opened in Connecticut 20 years ago, Callahan said. Live racing ended two years ago, eliminating many jobs at the Salem track.

But the century-old operation thrives — just not as well as it once did, Callahan said.

"It has not created the economic viability we would all like to see," he said. "We continue to operate and we plan on continuing to operate."

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