NH gambling panel add casino tax, slots to bill

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A panel drafting legislation to regulate casinos in New Hampshire decided Friday to include up to 5,000 slot machines if a casino is approved.

The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority took a straw vote to include such details as a maximum number of video slots, the tax rate and number of locations — a reversal of a decision made this summer.

The panel plans to meet Dec. 6 to review a new draft of the bill it will submit to lawmakers by Dec. 15.

The panel was created after the House killed a casino bill that passed the Senate with strong backing from Gov. Maggie Hassan. The bill rejected in May would have allowed the construction of one casino with 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

Casino supporters are concerned New Hampshire will lose revenue to Massachusetts, which is in the process of licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.

The panel chose to include the details in the legislation rather than in a separate report. Attorney General Joseph Foster abstained, noting that his agency opposes legalizing a casino.

"I don't view it as my role or the department's role to decide what the optimal casino should be," said Foster.

State Rep. Richard Ames, a Democrat from Jaffrey and committee chairman, said that if the number of slots and other fiscal aspects are not included, he would bring an amendment to the committee handling the bill next year to add them. He did not say whether his amendment would push to legalize a casino. Other bills to legalize a casino are expected to come before lawmakers next year.

Foster also objected to the draft bill's statement of purpose saying New Hampshire should develop a casino as soon as possible "to preserve the quality of life for New Hampshire residents" by promoting economic development. Foster said his role was to ensure the state had as strong a regulatory structure as possible if it decided to approve a casino, not to support a casino.

State Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, questioned whether a policy statement was necessary.

Racing and Charitable Gaming director Paul Kelley and his staff also are working on changes to the law governing charitable games that include ending the practice of commercial operators of games of chance charging the charities rent and fees that cut into their 35 percent share of the take.

The legislation will be considered separately from the bill to regulate a casino.