NH House gambling panel would hike state take

New Hampshire House gambling panel would hike state profit if casino approved

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A special House panel said Thursday it would want a bigger profit for New Hampshire if a casino is approved.

The joint House Finance and Ways and Means committees met to discuss research done by three subcommittees into whether New Hampshire should legalize a casino.

The subcommittees made presentations on revenues, regulations and the impact on the state and community if a casino is approved. State Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican heading the subcommittee on revenues, said his group would increase the percentage profit from video lottery machines from 30 percent of the daily net machine income to 33.3 percent and change the money's allocation.

Kurk said his subcommittee felt the state's income should be maximized if a casino is legalized. He said the group also proposes changing the percentage profit on table games from 14 percent to 16 percent.

The joint panel is considering a Senate bill that legalizes one casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games. The joint panel will meet Wednesday to consider amendments to the bill and vote on a recommendation for the House to consider later this month.

Gov. Maggie Hassan included $80 million from a licensing fee in her budget, but the House budget passed last month to the Senate does not rely on gambling revenue. The House has never approved a video slots bill. The Senate says it will cut spending rather than accept some of the House's budget assumptions, putting pressure on the House to approve its gambling bill.

The Senate allocated most of the state's profits to highway improvements, higher education and economic development in the northern part of the state, but Kurk's subcommittee would leave those funding decisions to budget writers. His group also would give less money to the community where the casino was located — 1 percent of the income from slot machines instead of 3 percent. It also would give some money to counties within 40 minutes of the casino.

Kurk said the Legislature should reserve the right to grant additional casino licenses, add new games and license Internet gambling. He said the state should grant a license for 20 years instead of 10 years as called for in the bill, but after 20 years the licensing process would start anew. Rather than an initial $80 million licensing fee, the group proposed a minimum of $50 million — an amount bidding casino groups could raise in hopes of getting the license.

Kurk said the minimum investment in a facility should be $400 million and not allow applicants to count license fees or real estate or other improvements toward the $400 million total. The bill sets the amount at $425 million but allows the license fee and other expenses to be deducted.

Kurk also said the state would apply its 8.5 percent tax on business profits to the sale, should an operator decide to sell the casino.

The subcommittee on regulations said the Senate bill needed to be changed to enhance the attorney general's authority and clarify the role of the state police in enforcing laws in the casino.

The subcommittee on the impact on the community and state focused on concerns that charities and community centers would be hurt.

State Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, a Stratham Democrat who chaired the subcommittee, pointed out that state laws place restrictions on charitable gambling that a casino would not face. For example, she said a casino could sell alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week when a charity must stop selling drinks at 1 a.m.

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