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."
Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas has an option to buy Rockingham Park to establish a $450 million casino. Millennium spokesman Rich Killion has said expanded gambling would generate at least $140 million in annual revenue for the state.
Also last night, selectmen reviewed capital improvement proposals for 2013 after hearing Town Manager Keith Hickey explain his five-year financial plan last week.
Representatives for several town departments outlined their capital spending plans. They included the Public Works, Engineering, Police and Fire departments.
Engineering Director Robert Puff explained a plan to replace four bridges, including three on the state's high-priority list. The bridges are on Providence Hill Road, Town Farm Road, Bluff Street and Bluff Street Extension.
Board members debated whether the bridge work should be bonded over one year or two.
Selectman Stephen Campbell said residents would be less likely to support replacement of all four bridges in the same year.
"There is a political reality of how much people will vote for," he said.
Seletmen eventually agreed to do two bridges this year and two next year.
Other capital improvement requests included the replacement of vehicles for the Public Works, Police and Fire departments.
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