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House Committee Sends Casino Bill Forward

Brady Carlson, NHPR

The House Ways and Means committee has narrowly voted to recommend passage of a bill to authorize casinos in New Hampshire.

Before the 11 to 10 vote, committee members exchanged arguments familiar to anyone who’s followed casino debates in the past. Backers like Republican Gary Azarian of Salem said that, in addition to boosting jobs and economic growth, casinos would give the state revenue to fund its priorities without increasing taxes or fees.

“I’d be happy to say, listen, this year we have to prioritize it on roads and bridges. This year we have to prioritize it on health and human services. This year we need to prioritize it on the university system," Azarian said during Tuesday's session. "But we need to make the effort, as a revenue committee, to get the revenues now, so we can decide where that money’s going to go.”

Opponents again cited the potential for increased crime and addiction, and suggested the state wouldn’t find much revenue in the northeast’s increasingly competitive casino market.

Plymouth Democrat Mary Cooney said casinos wouldn’t put new money into the economy, but would simply redirect money that’s already there.

“We should not forget that dollars gambled are dollars not spent on other activities and venues that are available in the state," Cooney said. "That is the intent of a destination casino. And most of the profits will not be kept in New Hampshire.”

The State Senate has already passed a version of the two-casino bill, and Governor Maggie Hassan has indicated she favors a form of casino legislation. But so far, the House has never approved a casino bill.

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