Governor questions whether market exists for 2 casinos but doesn't say if she would veto bill

Gov. Maggie Hassan on Wednesday questioned whether New Hampshire could sustain two casinos but didn't say if she would veto a two-casino bill currently making its way through the Legislature.

"I don't think the market supports a second casino," she said. "I'll have to understand what kind of provisions this bill has in terms of how a second casino might be established before I make a final decision."

Hassan, a Democrat, strongly supports authorizing one casino in New Hampshire as a means to generate new revenue. The House has never backed casino gambling, but a key committee in that chamber endorsed the two-casino proposal Tuesday, increasing its chances of passage by the full House.

The bill would allow for one large casino with 3,500 slot machines and 160 table games, plus a smaller one with 1,500 slots and 80 table games. The state would get $120 million in licensing fees then take a share of the profits once the casinos are in operation. The House committee added an amendment that says the second casino couldn't be authorized for at least a year after the first is in operation and after a performance audit is completed.

Hassan says the state is losing money when New Hampshire residents gamble elsewhere, a trend that would be exacerbated by a casino set to open just across the border in Massachusetts.

"I think it's very important to have access to such revenue," Hassan said.

Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, the casino bill's prime sponsor, is pushing back on Hassan's assertion about a limited market. He points to Maine, which has casinos in Bangor and Oxford, and said the process for licensing the casinos will be market driven.

"There is ample justification for more than one," he said. "We have plenty of time to look at the second one, but the second one should be there."