New Hampshire Lawmakers Reject Casino Bill in 2014, But Expect Fight in 2015
Though opponents of casino gambling in New Hampshire were able to defeat gaming legislation in 2014, those opponents expect to face a new challenge to the status quo in 2015. After opponents of brick-and-mortar gambling in New Hampshire were able to squelch legislation during the summer months of 2014, the gaming issue seemed to disappear for a number of months. Now that the elections are over and a new legislative session in on the horizon, it appears that a new challenge will be mounted in 2015.
In the next legislative session in early 2015, several state legislators are expected to have gaming bills ready for debate. That is the news, despite efforts in the early and mid-sections of the year to kill the gambling agenda in the state.
2014 Gaming Legislation Review
Most gambling initiatives were shelved in April 2014. A casino bill was defeated on May 7, 2014, though a charitable gaming bill made its way through the legislature during the summer. In August 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill into law which makes charitable gaming laws much stricter.
In a legislature with 400 members, the casino bill was defeated by one single vote, though. The proposed legislation, which included provisions for 2 land-based casinos, was pushed by Gov. Maggie Hassan, which is one reason the initiative was nearly passed.
New Hampshire’s Political Traditions
Traditionally in the New Hampshire House, party leaders do not pressure lawmakers to adopt a party line on gambling bills. Republican Speaker Shawn Jesper is expected to follow that path again in 2015.
Such decisions are considered “conscience votes”, so the members of the legislature do not answer to the whip in most cases. For that reason, gaming laws are often unpredictable for all concerned.
Plans for 2015
Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro plans a new gaming bill in 2015. Seacoast Online conducted an informal poll of the House Ways and Means Committee, which reviews any gaming bills before they reach the floor of the House.
In that poll, 10 members of the House Ways and Means Committee were opposed to a gaming bill, 7 members of the committee supported it, and 4 were unavailable for comment. That leaves open the possibility that a bill could muster the committee votes to pass, but it leaves a thin margin–if indeed the committed support holds through the rigors of a recorded vote.
Why Gaming Laws Are Hard to Pass
One big problem in years past is the divided nature of the New Hampshire legislature. Lawmakers on either side of the aisle cannot always agree on how to spend the state’s limited funds. Though all would like to pass laws that could tap new sources of revenues without raising taxes, many have qualms about approving casino establishments, due to moral considerations.
New England Gaming Culture
The increasingly crowded nature of the New England brick-and-mortar gaming industry also clouds matter. In the past, most Massachusetts gamblers traveled to Connecticut to gamble at Foxwoods Casino or Mohegan Sun, the two massive Indian casinos in that state.
Those who didn’t want to play at those casinos might have traveled to New Hampshire to gamble instead, but that equation is soon likely to change. The people of Massachusetts approved an initiative for 3 land-based casinos in the state in 2011. In the last months of 2014, casino licenses were approved.
Wynn Resorts will be building a $1.6 billion casino in Everett, in the suburbs of Boston. MGM Resorts will be building a large casino in Springfield in Western Massachusetts. Bostonians wanting to gamble near home can drive out to the casino in Everett and be back home in the evening. Those who want a more scenic casino experience can drive into Western Massachusetts. Fewer than ever would be likely to travel to New Hampshire.
That would leave fewer people than ever to enjoy any casino built in New Hampshire. That still leaves other possibilities, but puts a cap on the revenue which can be generated. Governor Hassan believes it’s worth the trouble to build casinos, because the revenues generated will save taxpayer money, in the long run.
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