MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas said Wednesday he would oppose any gambling legislation if it did not limit the size of any casino-based theater to 1,500 seats. The provision would protect the Verizon Wireless Arena but not smaller downtown theaters, according to one theater director.
Earlier this week, aldermen and Gatsas unanimously endorsed the 1,500-seat limit, which state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, is trying to attach to a Senate casino bill.
“This is not about gaming, in opposition or in favor. It’s about protection of the Verizon,” Gatsas said Wednesday.
But a House gambling supporter said the Verizon — as well as downtown theaters in other New Hampshire cities — can be protected in better ways.
“You put in an exact number and that makes the Verizon Center happy, but would it help all the other venues?” said state Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, a member of the Fair Deal Caucus, a group of pro-casino House members.
The House casino bill requires a casino builder to negotiate with other entertainment venues over how the theaters can be protected from adverse impacts, Rogers said.
Owners of nonprofit theaters in Concord, Portsmouth and Keene have warned that a casino would be their demise and an end to the economic and cultural vitality they bring to their downtowns.
In previous articles, they expressed fears of lower ticket sales. They warned that casinos exclude acts from performing in nearby cities. And they said casinos offer free or discount tickets to lure gamblers.
A 1,500-seat casino-based theater would top the size of the Capitol Theater, at 1,304 seats, the Portsmouth Music Hall at 906 seats, and the Manchester Palace Theatre, at 880 seats.
“This will harm restored, historical theaters and revitalized downtowns in New Hampshire. Everyone has a vital interest in downtown,” said Patricia Lynch, director of the Music Hall.
At the Palace Theatre in Manchester, President Peter Ramsey said he doesn’t think a casino will harm the Palace. A typical Palace audience member isn’t a casino gambler, he said, noting the Palace doesn’t book casino acts.
“The Palace would never get Jerry Seinfeld. It’s not going to happen,” said Ramsey, a Manchester state representative who favors gambling.
Gatsas and aldermen voted to support the limit after being contacted by the Verizon. In a letter, General Manager Tim Bechert pointed to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
It had 86 headline acts in 2013. Nearby venues in Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and Bridgeport each had 15 or fewer acts.