Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday became the first New Hampshire governor to support a casino.
Her support could boost Las Vegas-based Millenium Gaming Inc.’s $450 million redevelopment plan for Rockingham Park, which the company has said would create 2,000 construction and 1,300 gaming jobs.
“This is very good news,” said Larry Belair, fiscal agent for the N.H. Casino Now campaign. “The next immediate step is to get a strong vote from the people of Salem indicating to Concord that we are prepared to host this facility,”
A nonbinding referendum is before Salem voters on their Town Meeting ballot March 12.
Hassan’s support for a casino wasn’t a surprise. She had said on the campaign trail she could accept one.
But her predecessors from both parties in the governor’s office had refused to accept one, so the formal announcement in her budget message to the Legislature was historic.
She said she was including $80 million in projected licensing revenue from a casino in her budget.
Hassan acknowledged expanded gaming as an ongoing, difficult debate.
Expanded gaming a reality
“But the social costs many are worried about are already here,” she said, “and with Massachusetts moving forward, we can no longer pretend that expanded gambling isn’t coming to our communities. It is.”
The question is whether New Hampshire will let Massachusetts take revenue away from the state’s needs, Hassan said.
“I believe we should move forward with one high-end casino,” she said, “while at the same time protecting New Hampshire’s brand as a family-friendly state with a great outdoor economy.”
Gaming revenue could help freeze college tuition, address mental health system problems and boost the economy, Hassan said.
She asked lawmakers to keep an open mind and said she saw developments in Massachusetts as reason for hope, not concern.