House bill licenses 1 NH casino, adds regulations

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire casino-watchers will be closely following a House bill that is the product of a special commission that proposed licensing one casino and strengthening gambling regulations.

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing Thursday on the bill and three other gambling measures. The House has never passed casino legislation, and it killed a Senate-passed bill in the spring despite heavy lobbying by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The Senate is voting on a new casino bill Thursday, but it plans to hold onto it until the House acts.

The two chambers disagree on how to raise money for highway improvements that include finishing the Interstate 93 expansion, higher education and economic development. The House passed a gas tax last year to pay for road fixes, but the Senate killed it.

The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, which was created after the House killed the Senate's casino bill, recommended legislation that would license one casino with up to 5,000 video slots and 150 table games.

Hassan hoped the special panel would address concerns opponents had expressed about inadequate regulations. The panel hired WhiteSands Gaming to help draft the bill, and state Rep. Richard Ames, the panel's chairman, sponsored it.

The House vote in May was 199-164, which means casino backers may only need to win over as few as 18 House members for a bill to pass. Casino supporters are concerned New Hampshire will lose revenue to Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.

The proposed regulations are much more extensive than were in the bill killed by the House, but limits on the number of video slots allowed and other details about a new casino are nearly identical. For example, the new commission could only approve a single casino and charge an $80 million initial license fee — the same as allowed in the defeated bill. Like the Senate bill, the special panel also recommended a minimum capital investment.

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