City Council will consider stand on 2-casinos bill that's before N.H. House

LACONIA — At the request of Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), the City Council will consider expressing its collective opinion for or against a bill to authorize two casinos in the state when it meets Monday night.

Senate Bill 366, which is co-sponsored by Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), carried the Senate by a vote of 15 to 9 last month and is scheduled to come before the N.H. Hampshire House of Representatives for a vote on Wednesday. The House and Ways and Means Committee, by the narrowest majority of 11 to 9 has recommended the House, which for years has failed to muster a majority for expanded gambling, reject the bill. In March, a similar bill failed in the House by a margin of 173 to 144.

SB-366 would authorize private companies to build two casinos, one with between 2,000 and 3,500 slot and 80 and 1260 table games and another with between 750 and 1,500 slot machines and 25 and 80 table games. Each would carry a license fee, the first of $80-million and the second of $40-million. Together the casinos are projected to return between $139-million and $201-million in annual revenue to the state.

Unlike the bill that failed earlier in the session, SB-366 would earmark $25.2-million of the annual revenue from expanded gambling to restore revenue sharing to cities and towns, which has been suspended since 2009. The restoration of revenue sharing would allocate $1,141,135 a year to the city of Laconia and 10 towns in Belknap County. Laconia would receive $646,946, Alton $31,607, Branstead $42,519, Belmont $77,735, Center Harbor $25,930, Gilford $86,370, Gilmanton $32,896, Meredith $76,686, New Hampton $18,315, Sanbornton $22,146 and Tilton $79,985.

However, opponents of the bill claim that it will be five or six years before the revenue from casino operations begins to flow and, since no legislature can bind its successors, the restoration of revenue sharing cannot be assured.

Despite Hosmer's sponsorship of the bill, casino gambling has scant support among local lawmakers. Only three of the 18 members of the Belknap County Delegation supported the gambling bill that the House scuttled in March and all three representatives from Laconia — Reps. Don Flanders, Bob Luther and Frank Tilton — voted against it.

Four years ago, almost to the very day, at Lipamn's urging the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Legislature  to pursue legislation to introduce casino gambling in order to address the state's mounting budget deficits, which added to the fiscal challenges weighing on cities and towns. The resolution followed a public forum hosted by the council attended by about a dozen residents, nine lawmakers and a lobbyist.