SALEM — Town approval of a nonbinding referendum at the polls next Tuesday will play a big role in determining whether a casino is built in New Hampshire, especially at Rockingham Park, selectmen were told last night.
Establishing a multi-million-dollar casino at the former racetrack would mean $13.5 million in annual revenue for Salem, according to Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.
Morse is a cosponsor of a proposal, Senate Bill 152, that paves the way for expanded gambling in the Granite State. Revenues from gaming are a key component of Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed state budget, including an anticipated $80 million from the casino licensing fee.
State lawmakers’ first vote on the bill comes today when the five-member Senate Ways and Means Committee makes its recommendation on the legislation. Morse is a member of the committee, as is Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry.
Morse said he expects the committee will back the bill and send it on to the full Senate, which votes on the legislation March 14 — two days after Salem residents go to the polls.
“We need a big vote in Salem .... those who are against it, stay home,” Morse joked. “I need a strong vote from Salem to make that go forward.”
The bill’s fate in the Democrat-controlled House is uncertain, Morse said. He was joined at the meeting by two other Republican lawmakers from Salem, Rep. Gary Azarian and Rep. Anne Priestley.
“We know we need to convince people in the state,” Morse said. “We know it’s going to be a challenge to get the license and Salem should be fighting for it,”
But a little persuasion may be needed in Salem as well.
When Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves asked how many of Salem’s nine state representatives support a casino, Azarian hesitated.