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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lawyer seeks longer casino site selection

CONCORD – A lawyer representing Green Meadow Golf Club in Hudson urged a House working group to lengthen the time the state would take to select a casino site.

Thomas J. Leonard said the recent experience in Massachusetts proves that many, potential casino developers not publicly known would emerge if New Hampshire were to legalize expanded gambling. ...

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CONCORD – A lawyer representing Green Meadow Golf Club in Hudson urged a House working group to lengthen the time the state would take to select a casino site.

Thomas J. Leonard said the recent experience in Massachusetts proves that many, potential casino developers not publicly known would emerge if New Hampshire were to legalize expanded gambling.

State Lottery Commission Executive Director Charles McIntyre said last week that five companies already have expressed interest in opening a casino here.

“I believe there will be more than that if you allow a bigger window for the timing,” Leonard told members of the House Finance and Ways and Means Committee working on the regulatory features in this Senate-passed casino bill (SB 152).

The pending bill creates a speedy time frame for the state to pick the developer – 60 days to accept applications and 90 days for the state to make its decision.

Leonard proposed 13 different amendments to the measure, and a key one was to set an April 30, 2014, deadline for picking the developer.

“My point of view is it is dangerous for New Hampshire to think we are going to get the jump on Massachusetts. What we want to do is end up with a project that is exceptional,” Leonard said. “That to me is a much more important overriding goal than the timing.”

But state Rep. Kathi Rogers, D-Concord, questioned why the state would want to let a late-breaking casino developer emerge on the scene and win the site war.

“If these people have shown a commitment over the years, why do we want to wait for these other people who were in Massachusetts and weren’t interested in us,” Rogers said.

“If Massachusetts doesn’t want them, why do we want to wait for them.”

Leonard said New Hampshire does not have to wait for Massachusetts to award all three of its casinos and one slot-barn project but that some quality bidders typically won’t get engaged until casinos are legal in a state.

“I will say that the group that are bidding, they are not from Massachusetts and not from New Hampshire,” Leonard said. “They don’t really care about the state lines; what they care about is population and access.”

Officials representing Green Meadow and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway have maintained the Senate-passed bill with its short time frame was tailor made for Millennium Gaming that for several years has had an option to buy Rockingham Park horse racetrack in Salem.

Gov. Maggie Hassan and her staff have met privately to hear these concerns but Hassan has said publicly the time frame in the bill was acceptable and would lead to a “fair and openly competitive” bid process.

Other changes Leonard offered would add a detailed set of criteria that any casino project should meet that would include focusing on “amenities” that are “in addition to gaming.”

Supporters for Green Meadow’s concept maintain it would create a more multipurpose, destination resort casino than Millennium would on the Salem property.

Schematic designs presented to Hudson planners have included a PGA-level golf course, luxury hotel, multiple restaurants, an entertainment auditorium and walking trails along the Merrimack River, all on the property.

The Senate-OK’d bill would have the winning developer pay an $80 million licensee fee and be able to have 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

The state would get 25 percent of net profit from the slots and 14 percent from gambling at the tables.

Estimates have varied greatly on how much this project would net on an ongoing basis for taxpayers.

State lottery officials peg the gain at $120 million a year while the independent New Hampshire Center for Policy Priorities has a much lower estimate, more like $45 million annually once it has to compete with two Massachusetts casinos within an hour of the border.

Kevin Landrigan can reached
at 321-7040 or klandrigan@
nashuatelegraph.com.
Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).