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N.H. House Kills One Casino Bill

Concord — The House of Representatives cast it first judgment on legalizing casinos, killing a bill for one in the North Country and a second on the Massachusetts border.

Veteran observers don’t view the 249-65 vote as a true test for the prospects later this spring for the single-casino bill that easily cleared the State Senate last week.

The House bill sponsor, Lincoln Republican state Rep. Ed Gionet, pleaded with his colleagues to put the House on record in favor of casinos in order to give it a strong bargaining position with the Senate.

“My bill allows us to have a House position that we can negotiate,” Gionet said. “This is the way and this is the means.”

But Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, said Gionet’s bill was badly flawed with a low license fee ($10 million), no specifications on the number of slot machines and a too-tight time frame.

“The New Hampshire House will have ample opportunity to discuss and debate the pros and cons of casino gambling in N.H.,” Lovejoy said referring to the Senate bill. “I believe today is not the day to be debating casinos.”

Only 27 House Democrats voted to keep the two-casino bill alive.

But pro-casino forces did get one positive development when the House voted, 170-160, to table a second casino bill allowing up to six casinos to be operated by the state.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, convinced the House it was prudent to put off to one side a casino bill of its own to expand its options in dealing with the Senate measure in the coming weeks.

House Ways and Means Chairwoman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, had tried to convince her colleagues to kill the second bill outright.

The Senate bill would award one license costing $80 million and permit the developer to have up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

The state would impose a 30 percent tax on slot betting and 14 percent on table games profits for the house.

State profits would be split between highway projects starting with the widening of Interstate 93, higher education aid and economic development in the North Country.

Gov. Maggie Hassan supports the Senate bill and spent the $80 million in license fees in the two-year state budget she proposed Feb. 14. The House Finance Committee is preparing to recommend its own budget at the end of this month without the $80 million in license fees because for the past generation the House has rejected numerous attempts to expand legal gambling.

The House is expected soon to kill a second, House bill (HB 678) to allow up to six casinos with the state serving as the gaming operator.