EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

March 13, 2013

Salem bets heavily on casino

Salem voters overwhelming approve casino at The Rock

SALEM — Bring on the casino.

Residents decided yesterday to up the ante, voting 4,598-1,074 in favor of a nonbinding article to support a casino at Rockingham Park.

For casino advocate across the state, yesterday’s vote was a symbolic show of support for efforts to legalize expanded gambling in New Hampshire.

That includes Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem. He’s the sponsor of a bill that could bring up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 tables games to Rockingham Park.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 152 in a 4-1 vote last week. The full Senate is to vote on the bill tomorrow.

Although the vote wasn’t binding, Salem residents’ overwhelming backing of plans at the former racetrack will have a significant impact on whether the Legislature approves casino gambling, according to Morse.

“It’s great — I think the citizens sent a pretty clear message,” Morse said. “I think it’s a strong message that we can compete with Massachusetts.”

Rockingham Park president and general manager Edward Callahan was at Town Hall to hear the results.

Polls of Granite State residents show the majority support a casino in the state, he said. This was the third time since 1994 Salem residents have approved nonbinding casino referendums.

Support has increased from 53 percent in 1994 to 81 percent yesterday, he said.

“Every poll indicates that the people in the state want casino gambling, “ Callahan said. “Locally, Salem appears to be very, very interested.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would support a single casino in the state. Salem’s five selectmen and Town Manager Keith Hickey have said a casino would help revitalize the community and reduce property taxes.

Morse has said Salem would receive about $13.5 million in annual revenue if a casino is allowed at Rockingham Park. A Las Vegas-based company, Millennium Gaming, has an option to establish a casino at the park if a license is granted.

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