New Hampshire Senate Approves Two Land-Based Casinos

New Hampshire Casino Bill 2019

This is the 21st casino bill State Sen. Joe D’Allesandro’s has submitted to the legislature.

The New Hampshire Senate voted 13-11 to allow two land-based casinos to operate in the state. The decision is being described as “miraculous” by proponents of New Hampshire gambling, because the bill appeared to be dead in the water for much of the legislative session.

Senator Lou D’Allesandro’s (D-Manchester) is the sponsor of the bill, as he always is. Since he entered the state legislature in 1996, the 80-year old lawmaker has introduced gambling bills 21 times.

The previous twenty bills met with failure. In fact, Sen. D’Allesandro said after the 20th casino bill went down to defeat by a 1-vote margin that he would not submit a 21st casino bill. He did, and now that bill is heading to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

In his final remarks before the Senate vote, Lou D’Allesandro said, “Vote — this bill ought to pass, send it to the House, [the] third largest legislative body in the English-speaking world, (which by the way) overwhelmingly passed sports betting — overwhelmingly — and let them make the decision.”

The 13-11 vote split both caucuses. Gambling bills are considered a “vote of conscience” in many legislatures across the country, so neither party applies the whip for a strict party-line vote. That certainly was the case this week, as various Democrats and Republicans supported the casino bill — and various Democrats and Republicans opposed it.

Will House Approve Casino Bill?

Since the D’Allesandro’s casino bills never made it out of the Senate before, the New Hampshire House has not voted on a casino bill since 2014. The scant evidence suggests that House lawmakers could be more amenable to gambling than state senators are.

In the 2014 vote on House Bill 366, the New Hampshire House split 172-172 (lost on a tiebreaker), so the measure failed by one single vote. Whether the mood has changed in the past 5 years is anyone’s guess, because informal vote counters never expected a new vote would be needed.

Earlier this year, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to approve up to 10 sports betting facilities in the state. Gov. Chris Sununu says he supports the sports betting bill. Because no one expected a casino bill to pass after so many failures, no one asked the governor if he supports casinos.

Would Gov. Sununu Sign a Casino Bill?

We might find out the truth soon enough. If the House votes to approve two land-based casinos later this session, Gov. Sununu will have the draft legislation on his desk. The future of casino gambling in New Hampshire will be in Sununu’s hands.

The reasons for approving a casino are financial and quite obvious. If developers built two casinos, the operations are estimated to generate $30 million in licensing fees and a further $100 million a year in tax revenues.

Of course, the House members and Governor Sununu will face lobbying efforts from groups that want to keep casino interests out. That might include the New Hampshire Lottery, religious groups, and civic groups who believe gambling brings social problems.

Lou D’Allesandro on Changing Attitudes

According to Lou D’Allesandro, though, the old arguments no longer work. In an interview with The Union Leader, he said, “I think there’s a growing consciousness of the reality that the gaming business has settled in around us and this may be our last chance to take part if we want to enjoy the economic pluses that can come from this.”

The longtime lawmaker, who began in the New Hampshire House in 1996 but was elected senator in 1998, said that the appearance of mega-resorts in Massachusetts like Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield is a game changer.

Arguments for New Hampshire Casinos

Soon, New Hampshire residents will be able to drive a short distance to gamble in world-class casino facilities. The arguments about cannibalizing lottery revenues or rampant problem gambling no longer will have effect. Those issues could happen whether New Hampshire approves casinos or not.

Sen. D’Allesandro argued, “We all know that Massachusetts facility [Encore Boston Harbor] will be opening up and New Hampshire people will go there. Why not keep them in New Hampshire?”

Under the circumstances, it makes sense for the New Hampshire legislature to approve local casinos. At least then, New Hampshire gamblers’ money will stay in-state. We’ll soon see if that logic works on House members and Gov. Sununu.