UPDATED: House votes down casino gambling
CONCORD — The House likely ended any more debate on casino gambling Wednesday when members refused to reconsider last week’s 173-172 vote to kill Senate Bill 366.
The vote Wednesday was 192-172 not to reconsider the bill, which would have established two casinos with 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games.
However, the House refused to put a stake in casino gambling’s heart, voting 183-179 not to prohibit any similar bills during the remainder of the two-year session.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has supported casino gambling and the revenue it would provide, said after the vote she still believes the state needs to develop its own casino to compete with those planned in Massachusetts.
“The close House vote makes it clear that more and more members of the House have come to understand the serious impact to our state of Massachusetts casinos, which will cost New Hampshire an estimated $75 million a year,” Hassan’s press secretary William Hinkle said. “The governor continues to believe that developing New Hampshire’s own plan for a casino is the best course of action for investing in the priorities that are critical to long-term economic growth.”
But House members facing the prospect of debating a dozen or more amendments Wednesday decided it was time to move on.
The amendments included expanding casino gambling to three facilities, allowing slot machines in bars, restaurants, clubs and convenience stores and increasing the state’s share of casino revenues. Other amendments would have decriminalized marijuana and allowed keno in bars and restaurants.
Casino supporters hoped recent financial news would spur some members to reconsider the need for casino gambling.
A superior court judge ruled the Medicaid Enhancement Tax unconstitutional, putting $185 million in state revenue at risk. In addition, state revenues were more than $20 million below expectations last month.
Two credit rating agencies took note of the state’s financial situation last week, but did not downgrade the state’s bond rating.
“A difficult situation was made even more difficult by the revenue picture since we last met,” said Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, who serves on the House Finance Committee. “It’s not good and we’ll probably be put on watch because of the fact we continue to vote for spending but don’t do anything on the revenue side.”
Opponents of reconsidering the earlier vote said there has been more than enough debate on gambling the last two years.
And they said many of the amendments have not been vetted or gone before a public hearing.
“This is momentous legislation whether you are for or against casinos,” said Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, a longtime opponent of casino gambling. “We should not be passing momentous legislation on a wing and a prayer.”
Casino gambling has twice passed the Senate in this two-year term, but was killed in the House each time.
SB 366’s prime sponsor, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said “Never say never,” when asked if the Senate is likely to try to send another casino gambling proposal to the House before the session ends in June.
“I assume it’s not gone forever,” he said. “All you have to do is look at the balance sheet.”
Gambling proponents viewed this two-year term as the best chance for lawmakers to approve casino gambling with Hassan’s support, the state needing additional revenue and Massachusetts ready to open three casinos and a video slot machine parlor in the next few years.
Supporters said the bill would produce about $150 million in annual revenue for the state, plus $120 million in licensing fees.
It would require a minimum investment of $450 million in the larger of the two casinos.
Revenue-sharing with cities and towns, which lawmakers ended in 2009 as they struggled to balance the state budget during the recession, would have been re-established under SB 366.
The $25.2 million in revenue-sharing was called a sweetener and a promise that might not be kept if the state ran into troubled financial waters in the future.