CONCORD — A special gambling panel charged with developing regulations for a future casino voted Friday to recommend that New Hampshire legalize one casino with up to 5,000 video slots and 150 table games.
The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority voted 8-1 to approve draft legislation that authorizes a new commission to begin licensing a casino. The Legislature will consider the bill next year.
Attorney General Joseph Foster praised the panel's work to include strong regulations for the casino, but voted against the proposal. Foster said his office will fight the bill when lawmakers consider it next year. The AG said he recognizes that charities benefit from games of chance in New Hampshire now, but legalizing a commercial casino would foster more social costs.
"We're going from little leagues to big leagues in terms of the dollar cost of problem gamblers," Foster said.
The panel was created after the House killed a casino bill that passed the Senate with strong backing from Gov. Maggie Hassan. The bill rejected in May would have allowed the construction of one casino with 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games. Hassan hoped the special panel would address concerns opponents had expressed about inadequate regulations.
Casino supporters are concerned New Hampshire will lose revenue to Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor. Hassan reiterated those concerns Friday and urged "all legislators, especially those who previously expressed concerns about regulatory oversight, to fully consider the authority's carefully developed recommendations as they move through the legislative process."
The panel hired WhiteSands Gaming to help draft the bill, and state Rep. Richard Ames, the panel's chairman, said he would sponsor it.
The proposed regulations are much more extensive than were in the bill killed by the House, but limits on the number of video slots allowed and other details about a new casino are nearly identical.
For example, the new commission could only approve a single casino and charge an $80 million initial license fee — the same as allowed in the defeated bill. Like the Senate bill, the special panel also is recommending a minimum capital investment.
The New Hampshire House has never approved casino legislation, but House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff. D-Concord, said that could change with the addition of strong regulations in the new bill.
"It has a better chance of passing," he said.
Shurtleff said he voted against the Senate bill in May, but he will give the new proposal a careful review.
"If it was the right bill, I could vote for it," he said.
Two anti-gambling groups announced Tuesday they are joining forces to try to prevent House members like Shurtleff from switching sides. The House vote in May was 199-164, which means casino backers may only need to win over as few as 18 House members for a bill to pass.