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Casino question to appear on Salem's 2013 town warrant

SALEM - Local voters will have the chance to advocate for expanded gambling at Rockingham Park via a nonbinding referendum question on the March ballot.

After a public presentation during Monday night's selectmen meeting, the board voted unanimously in favor of moving the item forward, after a lengthy discussion with Rockingham Park president and general manager Edward Callahan. A positive vote on the item won't be legally binding, Callahan stressed, but would still give Rockingham Park officials a chance to gauge their neighbors' thoughts on the matter going forward.

The ballot question will simply ask voters if they're in favor or against having casino gambling such as table games and video slot machines at the local racetrack.

Callahan said Rockingham Park would cover any costs associated with the referendum, noting that a similar referendum was circulated at the Salem polls in both 1994 and 2003. In both instances voters overwhelmingly approved the nonbinding referendum, though those votes never progressed any further since casino gambling hasn't yet been legalized in New Hampshire.

With an expanded gambling bill to be heard in Concord early next year, Callahan said the time is now to start reaching out to citizens.

"The possibility of finding out where residents stand on the issue is probably a good idea," he said. Last year a group of Salem town officials spent the day at The Meadowland, near Pittsburgh, Pa., a facility owned by Millennium Gaming, the same developers that hope to bring the aging Salem racetrack to its former glory, should casino gambling become legal in New Hampshire.

Rockingham Park officials arranged for the trip, which was fully funded by the developers. Millennium Gaming still holds the option of opening a casino at the Salem racetrack if gaming is ever legalized in the Granite State.

Selectmen agreed that it's time for voters to have their say.

"I have no problem if people want this at Rockingham Park. I'm not opposed to us doing this," selectman Stephen Campbell said.

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