CONCORD, N.H. — Gambling supporters urged the House on Monday to pass a Senate bill authorizing New Hampshire to issue two casino licenses to raise money to plug a potential budget hole.
State Rep. Tom Schamberg, a Wilmot Democrat, said the state needs the money more than ever now that a superior court has ruled the state’s tax on hospitals is unconstitutional. He said that ruling alone blew a $185 million hole in this year’s budget alone.
“A casino could fund the gap if we get it started,” he said.
State Rep. Mariellen MacKay, a Nashua Democrat, said social services could be cut if the problem isn’t addressed. She said during her career in social services she has witnessed the devastation budget cuts have on people in need.
“When dollars become scarce, the story repeats itself: the services most needed by vulnerable populations are lost. What does this say about our priorities?” she said.
The House is scheduled to vote on the casino bill Wednesday. The state is appealing the court ruling on the hospital tax to the state Supreme Court and legislative leaders are discussing possible ways to address the court ruling.
The Senate bill proposes legalizing two casinos sharing a total of 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games. The House killed a bill a month ago that would have legalized one casino licensed to have 5,000 video slot machines. The bill would distribute $25 million of the profits in aid to communities to provide property tax relief.
While opponents say casinos would harm the state’s image, supporters argue New Hampshire needs the revenue, estimated at $105 million from one casino. The Lottery Commission estimates two casinos as proposed in the Senate bill would generate about $168 million for the state and about $480 million for the two license holders when fully operating.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has repeatedly said she supports only one casino. She and other casino supporters have said they believe New Hampshire should legalize a casino to capture gambling profits that otherwise will be spent in Massachusetts, which is licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor.