NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 20, 2013

coming up short in casino debate

Lawmakers seemingly favor Rockingham Park over Seabrook dog track

SEABROOK — As state lawmakers debate allowing a casino to be built in New Hampshire, Seabrook’s racing track looks to be an underdog.

The move to approve a single casino — most likely at Salem’s Rockingham Park — has gained historic momentum in the Statehouse. Last Thursday, with strong bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled chamber, New Hampshire’s state senators approved a bill giving the legalization of casino gambling a giant push in the Granite State.

Gov. Maggie Hassan strongly supports the bill that would allow one high-end, highly regulated casino near the state line with Massachusetts and has included $80 million in licensing fees in her budget to pressure lawmakers to approve a casino. She’s repeatedly warned state legislators that if New Hampshire fails to act quickly to legalize an in-state casino, the state will lose $75 million each year to Massachusetts, which approved allowing three casinos and a slots parlor last session.

Hassan made it clear she’s backing a bill with only one casino, but according to published reports, proposals would be accepted by any and all comers, with the nod going to the developer that offers the best deal for the state.

The bill’s quick licensing process appears to favor Rockingham Park, which has had a casino development plan ready for implementation for years. Millennium Gaming Inc. of Las Vegas has an option to buy the Salem racetrack and has proposed spending $450 million to build a facility there.

With Interstate 93 at its doorstep and a ready-made transportation infrastructure from the Metropolitan Boston population base, many see Rockingham as a sure thing to apply for and get the only license.

But Seabrook state Rep. Koko Perkins believes that overlooking Seabrook Greyhound Park could be a mistake. With a nearby airport at Pease and the recreational attraction the ocean offers, he said a casino in Seabrook would add more jobs as local businesses prosper. But, Perkins added that before a casino can be built, the bill has to pass the House — and that won’t be easy.

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