NH House rejects Senate casino proposal by 1 vote
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A month after rejecting one casino, the New Hampshire House killed a new casino proposal Wednesday by one vote, but left the door ajar to reconsider the bill.
The 173-172 House vote killed a Senate bill to legalize two casinos sharing a total of 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games. Deputy Speaker Naida Kaen, a Lee Democrat, was presiding over the session and cast the deciding vote.
The House, which has never approved video slots legislation, can reconsider the bill at its May 7 session. The measure calls for distributing $25 million of state revenues from the casinos to local communities to provide property tax relief.
In March, the House killed a bill that would have legalized one casino licensed to have 5,000 video slot machines.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has repeatedly said she supports only one casino. She and other casino supporters have said they believe New Hampshire should legalize a casino to capture gambling profits that otherwise will be spent in Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.
It is unclear how many representatives supported the Senate bill because some wanted to vote down the motion to kill the bill so amendments could be debated, including one to attach a proposal to decriminalize marijuana to try to force the Senate to consider it. The Senate has refused to consider a House bill to decriminalize the drug this year because it killed a similar bill last year.
Opponents said casinos would harm the state's image and increase the number of addicted gamblers needing services.
But supporters argued New Hampshire needs the revenue, estimated at about $168 million for the state with two casinos fully operating. They said the state needs the money more than ever now that a superior court has ruled the state's tax on hospitals is unconstitutional. The state gets about $185 million annually from the tax, and is appealing the ruling.
Rep. Ken Weyler said New Hampshire is not going to turn to a personal income tax or sales tax for revenue to fill the budget hole created by the loss of the revenue from the hospital tax.
"This looks to me like the only game in town," said Weyler, R-Kingston.
But House Finance Chairwoman Mary Jane Wallner said the governor, legislative leaders and hospitals are negotiating on a solution that addresses the court's concerns with the tax.
"This is not the time to push the panic button. This is the time to solve the (tax issue) with a thoughtful, measured approach," said Wallner, D-Concord.
Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said the state would not get revenue from the casinos for perhaps two years, which would not solve the immediate problem created by the court ruling, and Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, argued the casino proposal was unconstitutional because it would grant a monopoly to two license holders.
Rep. Gary Richardson, D-Hopkinton, agreed and said, "The next person who wants to apply for a license is being discriminated against."
But Rep. Richard Ames, a casino supporter, said that argument is a stretch.
"The revenues from this bill will be sustainable; they will be substantial; and we need them," said Ames, D-Jaffrey.