By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — A House hearing on the Senate-passed casino bill is set next week.
Speaker Terie Norelli yesterday announced a joint House panel will take testimony on Senate Bill 152 during a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse.
Norelli has sent the bill to joint review by the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy, and the Finance Committee, which deals with the budget.
“We look forward to hearing from the public before we begin work sessions on the bill,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, chairman of the joint committee.
The committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Room 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Statehouse, to hear expert testimony and discuss committee work on the bill.
The speaker’s office said both sessions can be followed online at gencourt.state.nh.us/house/.
SB 152 calls for licensing one casino in New Hampshire for $80 million, which proponents say can be used to pay for highways, colleges and economic development.
It would award the license by bid and allow the casino operator up to 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines. Local voters would have to approve the casino at referendum.
Supporters say the casino could bring in $100 million annually in revenues, though one study has suggested the state’s take would be less due to competition from Massachusetts.
Gov. Maggie Hassan is backing the bill.
But there is opposition from those who believe a casino will hurt New Hampshire’s quality of life by promoting crime and gambling addiction.
The Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling has called into question the sustainability of gaming revenues and the risks to the state in trying to build a budget on them.
A new anti-casino group emerged yesterday in Concord, Casino Free NH.
Leaders include Lew Feldstein, former president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Alex Ray, owner of The Common Man restaurants, and former Attorney General Phil McLaughlin.
Another organization supporting casino development, the New Hampshire Building & Construction Trades Council, criticized the new group.
“This group represents the same tired old arguments from the same people who have been opposing expanded gambling for years,” council president Joe Casey said. “Maybe the people standing in this group don’t need the services that will be funded by SB 152 or the thousands of good-paying jobs it will create, but many in our state do.”