Cloudy
56°
Cloudy
Hi 75° | Lo 51°

Hassan’s Lawyer Defends Casino Bill

Concord — Gov. Maggie Hassan’s lawyer assured a special joint House panel yesterday that a license to operate a casino in New Hampshire would not necessarily be for life.

Lucy Hodder told the House Finance and Ways and Means committees that a Senate bill legalizing a casino calls for the initial license to be good for 10 years and can be renewed after that for another five years. Hodder said the license can be revoked for cause. She said the Lottery Commission, which would regulate the casino, also could decide not to renew the license.

The joint panel is working on a bill that passed the Senate last month that would legalize one casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games. It heard presentations yesterday on the technical aspects of the proposal as well as projections of possible income if it is approved.

Hodder’s response came in answer to a question from state Rep. Neal Kurk, a Finance Committee member, who wanted to know if the state would be locked into the terms of the license, including the amount a casino would pay the state and communities. The bill calls for the state to get 25 percent of the net video lottery income after prizes are awarded. Another 5 percent would be divided among the host community, abutting towns and into a fund to treat people addicted to gambling.

“This is essentially a license forever if the licensee follows the rules,” said Kurk, R-Weare.

Hodder said the state might be sued if it revoked a license without good reason, but the Lottery Commission would have plenty of latitude to judge if a licensee was complying with the requirements laid out when the license was issued. She said the state could change the terms of the license such as the payments to the state, but Kurk later said that would have to be spelled out in the law to avoid challenges.

Charles McIntyre, the commission’s executive director, said he has spoken with five potential applicants if New Hampshire legalizes a casino. He declined to name them, but three are well known: Millennium Gaming, which has an option to buy Rockingham Park race track in Salem; Greenmeadow Golf Club in Hudson; and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Critics complain the bill is tailored to the Salem track, but bill sponsors insist the application process would be open.

Hassan is urging the House to pass the bill — though the House has never endorsed casino legislation.

Hassan argues the non-tax revenue is needed for vital state spending, but opponents say the money isn’t worth the crime and social costs that come with a casino.

Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, told the joint panel Wednesday a casino on New Hampshire’s southern border most likely would compete with one at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is preparing to license three resort casinos and one slots parlor. Norton said if a New Hampshire casino competes with one in Massachusetts, the net state benefit after accounting for social costs could be a loss of $2 million.

He based his estimate on New Hampshire licensing a medium-sized casino based on the minimum capital investment required in the Senate bill and having 3,000 video slot machines. Norton said if New Hampshire does not license a casino, the net impact in lost revenues and social costs would be $75 million.

McIntyre said the $425 million required capital investment in the bill is a minimum amount. He predicted applications for a license would be for higher amounts due to the competition for casinos in the region.

Andy Lietz, who chaired a gambling study under former Gov. John Lynch in 2010, urged the panel to tread cautiously. He said the study done under Lynch determined that a strong regulatory structure needed to be in place prior to approving a casino.

“This should not be a discussion about a budget but about public policy over the long term,” he said.

The joint House panel is forming three subcommittees to look at regulations, projected revenue and the impact on communities and the state.