When the Senate votes today on an expanded gambling bill, talk will surely focus on Salem residents’ strong support of a casino at the polls Tuesday.
Eighty-one percent of voters said they want to see a casino at Rockingham Park, 4,598-1,074. The nonbinding vote raised advocates’ hopes for expanded gambling in New Hampshire.
That includes Rich Killion, spokesman for Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, which has proposed a $425 million casino at the former horse track.
A casino would create thousands of jobs and provide much-needed revenue and economic development in Salem, according to Killion.
The vote sends a strong to state lawmakers, he said, and that message is: Salem residents want a casino in their community. He said he expected widespread support, but was surprised by the margin.
“That’s a number that stands by itself,” Killion said. “I can’t think of anything in modern election history that even compares to that. I think that is a testament to the people of Salem.”
It’s not the first time Salem residents have backed a casino. They did so in nonbinding votes in 1994 and 2003.
Rockingham Park president and general manager Edward Callahan and Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said they were pleased with the level of support. They are confident Salem’s overwhelming vote will help pave the way for casino at The Rock.
Morse is the sponsor of Senate Bill 152, the legislation senators are considering today that could bring up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 game tables to the park. Rockingham Park is struggling to survive after live racing was discontinued in 2010.
Callahan and Morse said they expected Salem residents to back a casino, but receiving 81 percent approval was an added bonus.
“Locally, Salem appears to be very, very interested,” Callahan said.
Selectmen also expected a lot of support.