NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 11, 2013

Salem officials unhappy with proposed casino revenue cut

Host town revenue would drop from 3 percent to 1 percent

Doug Ireland
staff writer

---- — SALEM — Local officials are concerned some of the town’s proposed casino revenue is being gambled away.

Members of a House subcommittee propose slashing the revenue given to any community that might host a casino, including Salem.

The recommendation, still not accepted, calls for the host community to receive just 1 percent of proceeds instead of 3 percent. Some of Salem’s elected leaders are upset, while others say it’s too early to worry.

“I was stunned,” said Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem.

Elliott is a member of the House Finance Committee. His panel met Thursday with the House Ways and Means Committee to review recommendations from three subcommittees on how a casino bill could be improved.

The legislation, Senate Bill 152, would allow for expanded gambling in New Hampshire and a single, well-regulated casino.

One proposed location is Salem’s Rockingham Park, where Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas hopes to establish a $600-million-plus casino complex at the former horse track.

Elliott said yesterday that when he first heard about the recommendation to cut the host community’s revenue share, he couldn’t believe it.

“I’m still steaming,” he said.

Elliott said for the state to receive a bigger share of the casino proceeds, the host community would suffer. He blames the subcommittee led by Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, whom he confronted.

“I said, ‘Where did you get this 1 percent figure from?”’ Elliott said. “Did you just pull it out of the air?”

Elliott said he didn’t get an answer. The 1 percent revenue would do little to fund what it would cost to host a casino, including the strain on police and fire services and roads, he said.

But Kurk said in an interview yesterday the roughly $8 million a year Salem would receive under the 1 percent proposal would be enough to cover those costs. Other proposed changes to the legislation, to be voted on next week, could boost the revenue the host community receives, he said.

Salem selectmen said they weren’t happy to hear the town might only receive 1 percent.

“If they’re asking for 10,000 to 12,000 people to come here every day, there has to be something for the host community,” Selectman Stephen Campbell said. “Fair is fair.”

Campbell is a member of the town’s Casino Advisory Committee, which met Tuesday to consider how the town should spend the revenue should a casino become reality. He said some of the money should be used to lower Salem property taxes.

“Salem will have all the inconvenience,” he said. “I find it objectionable.”

Selectman Patrick Hargreave agreed.

“It sounds to me the state is getting greedy,” Hargreaves said. “I don’t think it is fair.”

When 81 percent of voters in March supported a casino in a nonbinding referendum, Hargreaves said, it was partly because Salem would receive 3 percent of the proceeds, roughly $13.5 million a year.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, a co-sponsor of SB 152, isn’t happy with the proposed cut, but said it’s still early in the legislative process to become too concerned.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed in that,” he said. “There is a process, but it’s early.”

Morse said Salem deserves to be compensated fairly if it’s the host community. The full House is expected to vote on the bill in late May.

“We will continue to fight for that,” he said.

Salem Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said he, too, was disappointed to hear about the proposed cut, but it was too early to become concerned.

“I would rather see the 3 percent, but it’s definitely the first volley over the net,” he said.