NH House kills bill to legalize video slots

New Hampshire House kills bill to legalize 14K video slots at casinos; governor vowed to veto

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's House dashed gamblers' hopes Wednesday and killed a bill that would have legalized four casinos licensed to install up to 14,000 video slot machines and 420 table games.

The key vote was 154-195 to reject proponents' best amendment. The House later voted 236-108 to kill the bill. The bill faced long odds because Gov. John Lynch pledged to veto it if it had reached his desk. The House also had never supported expanded gambling bills.

"This bill gives away to gambling and casino interests a valuable asset that belongs to New Hampshire taxpayers. Under this bill, New Hampshire taxpayers are the losers," said Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare. Kurk argued the state's take of the proceeds were too low.

The bill called for the state to get 40 percent of the proceeds from slots and 8 percent from table games.

Rep. Dan McGuire objected that too few people could get licenses for slot machines.

"This creates four golden tickets obtainable only by the very wealthy," said McGuire, R-Epsom.

Supporters pointed to recently legalized gambling in Massachusetts as reason to push it through. They argued that if New Hampshire does nothing, the state stands to lose between $40 million and $50 million annually in lottery revenue and room and meals taxes to its neighbor to the south.

"Since Massachusetts passed its gaming bill, doing nothing is no longer an option," said Repl. David Campbell, D-Nashua.

Supporters also argued that Massachusetts' casinos would soon bring many of gambling's social ills to New Hampshire without any funding to treat them.

New Hampshire's House has never endorsed casinos, but bill sponsors sweetened the deal by directing some of the profits to be used to cut New Hampshire's high business taxes, which the Republican-controlled chamber has wanted to do. They said cutting business taxes will spur economic growth in the state.

Based on supporters' estimates of the revenue generated the first year, the business profits tax could have been cut from 8.5 to 4.3 percent, and the business enterprise tax would have been slashed by two-thirds, falling from 0.75 to 0.25 percent.

But opponents argued a future Legislature could divert the profits to something else.

Jim Rubens, chairman of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, said New Hampshire lawmakers don't want the problems that come with casinos.

"Turns out this House does not want to imitate Massachusetts," he said.

Rich Killion, spokesman for pro-casino group FixItNowNH, said the group was disappointed at the outcome.

"Unfortunately, Massachusetts still moves forward and serves as a potential magnet for New Hampshire jobs and revenue," said Killion.

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