By Doug Ireland
---- — If Sen. Lou D’Allesandro has his way, lawmakers will again consider whether expanded gambling is coming to New Hampshire.
D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said yesterday he will file legislation in September calling for the Legislature to approve casino gambling to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the cash-strapped state.
“We need the money,” D’Allesandro said.
His decision comes on the heels of a House of Representatives vote in May to kill Senate Bill 152, a proposal that would have permitted the establishment of a single casino in the state. One proposed location for the facility was Rockingham Park in Salem.
Ever since the House’s 199-164 vote May 22, D’Allesandro said he’s been contacting Democrats to discuss the issue with them so he can draft a bill that addresses their concerns. Ninety-five Democrats voted against the bill, he said.
“I will sit down with them and answer all their questions,” he said.
D’Allesandro said New Hampshire residents need to tell their lawmakers that expanded gambling is desperately needed to boost state coffers and fund millions of dollars in repairs to the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges.
“(Residents) know the roads are falling apart, they know the bridges are falling apart and they know we don’t have the money to fix them,” he said. “The public has expressed their concerns and the Democrats have to listen.”
D’Allesandro said although it’s too early to reveal details of his legislation, expanded gambling is needed to help finish expansion of Interstate 93.
Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, agrees.
Rausch, a strong supporter of casino gambling, said he would back D’Allesandro’s legislation.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I would support it,” he said.
Rausch said he intends to file his own legislation to bolster New Hampshire’s economy and complete much-needed bridge projects.
Finishing the I-93 expansion remains a top priority, Rausch said. He said he’s still weighing the options, but wouldn’t say if he’s considering an increase in the state’s gasoline tax.
He did say the gasoline tax hike may be the only viable option — other than casino gambling — to fund the completion of I-93 and other infrastructure improvements.
“We need another $250 million to finish the highway from Exit 3 to Manchester,” Rausch said.
If the state doesn’t get that money, work on the project would stop in 2015, according to New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton.
Transportation Commissioner Christoper Clement has said at least 600 of the DOT’s 1,600 employees would have to be laid off, Boynton said.
News of D’Alllesandro’s decision to file legislation was well received by Rockingham Park president Edward Callahan and Salem Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr.
Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming Inc. has an option to buy Rockingham Park and has proposed a a $600 million-plus redevelopment there if expanded gambling is approved. Millennium estimates it could create 3,000 construction and gaming jobs.
Callahan said New Hampshire needs to approve casino gambling this legislative session or lose its business to casinos expected to open in Massachusetts in the next year.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world for New Hampshire to fight back,” he said.
McBride said Salem residents clearly showed their support for casino during a nonbinding vote in March when 81 percent of voters backed expanded gambling. Salem needs the jobs a casino would create, he said.
“I think it would be a boon for the state and Salem,” he said. “We will have to twist harder on those arms in the Legislature. It was unacceptable that Salem representatives voted it down.”
Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, said the governor continues to support a single, well-regulated casino in the state. She will soon be appointing members of a commission that would study the regulations needed for casino gambling, he said.
D’Allesandro’s proposal received criticism from Jim Rubens, chairman of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.
“The New England casino market is almost fully saturated, Internet gambling is already legal in three states, and taxpayers in three states are now subsidizing failing casinos, “ Rubens said in a statement. “Why a New Hampshire legislator would want to hook our economy and state budget to this declining industry is beyond me.”