Feb 6, 2015 9:40 AM

Kevin Landrigan: NH casino bill is back, this time with a new wrinkle


CONCORD - The 2015 bill to legalize two high-end casinos is hot off the presses and its prime author says a new wrinkle could end decades of opposition in the House of Representatives.

The legislation was legally kept confidential until earlier this week.

NH1 is the first to report on the new initiative contained in a complex bill that spans more than 70 pages.

Manchester Democratic State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro has dedicated nearly the past two decades to get the Legislature to permit casinos and get New Hampshire to play catch up against Massachusetts where three casinos and a slot parlor are on the way to becoming a reality.

The problem has never been in D'Allesandro's Senate that more than a half dozen times has voted for slot machines.

Among those who agreed to co-author D'Allesandro's bill (SB 113) include President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, R-Dalton.

And Gov. Maggie Hassan, the two-term Exeter Democrat, pushed the casino option so hard she included $80 million in a license fee in her proposed state budget two years ago.

The timely question is whether Hassan will try to use casino proceeds in the 2016-17 spending blueprint she will formally present to lawmakers next Thursday.

Hassan left her casino support out of her second inaugural address last month leading observers to speculate Hassan will refrain from relying on casino cash.

The high hurdle has always been the House that has failed to approve any significant expansion in legalized gambling since it legalized the state lottery in 1964.

D'Allesandro has sweetened his bill to earmark $25 million in casino profits back to cities and towns.

The move is to recognize that lawmakers ended decades of revenue sharing for communities to cope with the last recession.

It hasn't restored this revenue sharing costing a loss of $150 million in local aid.

"I'm hoping this is the game changer, cities and towns have been struggling and this economic development initiative really offers them some relief for the first time in a long time,'' D'Allesandro said.

The bill would have $80 million in a license fee for one destination casino and $40 million up front from developers of a smaller casino.

Opponents such as former state prosecutor and Rep. David Hess, said the changes will not alter the House outcome.

Hess said gambling revenue remains a boom-bust way for the state to raise money, casinos would raise the spectre of political corruption and lead to tens of millions in social costs such as increased welfare, street crime and traffic expenses.

Two anti-casino groups are well organized and effectively have lobbied House members with a coalition that includes conservative supporters of law enforcement and liberals who prefer a state income or sales tax to a casino as a state revenue savior.

The casino debate is back at the State House and NH1 has the first report on the breaking legislation that will dominate the 2015 battle. The prime author says a new wrinkle to earmark money for cities and towns could be a game changer and end decades of opposition in the House of Representatives to legalizing a casino.


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