Gambling continues to dominate N.H. budget debate

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April 29, 2013

New Hampshire

By Phil Sletten

CONCORD, New Hampshire: The debate over expanded gambling, the primary fiscal policy initiative of New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan (D) during her first term, continues to capture the attention of budgeters in the New Hampshire General Court.[1] The House of Representatives passed a budget without expanded gambling, and the State Senate passed legislation permitting expanded gambling and the associated revenues. Both the upper and lower chambers must now consider the legislation that the other has passed. Republicans control the State Senate, while Democrats hold a majority in the House.[2][3]

Gambling has the potential to substantially augment funds available for the budget, Hassan and other gambling supporters argue. State estimates suggest that revenues from expanded gambling at one, high-end casino may bring in $120 million each year. The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, an independent policy think tank, estimates that revenues may be around $45 million, depending on the amount of competition from planned Massachusetts casinos.[4]

Public opinion in the state and some state law enforcement organizations appear to be in favor of expanded gambling. The legislation passed the Senate by a wide margin, but the House has historically been less amenable to gambling expansions. House concerns range from ownership of the casino to the lack of existing regulations needed to govern a large casino. Other concerns expressed by the more than 60 people who came to speak at a House hearing on the bill included ensuring that the facility would be "high-end," as the governor has called for, and ensuring that any legislation has not been influenced by those firms potentially in the bidding process for a license.[5] To alleviate the latter concern, some have proposed extending the bidding period, so that competing firms could have more time to draft proposals.[6]

The only states in the northeastern United States that do not currently have some sort of gaming facility are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The House committee plans on voting on legislation that may change this situation on May 21, with a full House vote scheduled for May 29.[7] The Senate must act on a budget proposal by June 6.[8]

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