N.H. gambling vote tough to call

House lawmakers get slots measure

By Norma Love
Associated Press / April 20, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — The odds are that New Hampshire’s House will do tomorrow what it has done for years when it considers a gambling bill — reject an effort to legalize video slots.

But the vote could be closer than in years past as lawmakers face choosing between tough spending cuts and finding more revenue.

The vote is on a bill that would legalize slots at six locations, including two on the Massachusetts border. The bill has already passed the Senate. House supporters are considering changing it to reduce the number of locations and slot machines allowed in hopes of gaining votes from reluctant lawmakers.

Governor John Lynch said last week he would veto either version but did not close the door completely to allowing gambling in New Hampshire. Lynch said he wanted to review a report by a gambling commission due at the end of May.

Even if the House approves gambling tomorrow, it won’t be the chamber’s last say on the bill. The House’s tax writing committee would have to review it, then return it for another House vote.

Either way the vote goes, the issue is certain to be revived during budget talks in the coming weeks.

“Nothing is over until it’s over. I don’t think you should ever give up,’’ said state Senator Lou D’Allesandro, the Senate bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate’s budget committee. D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, will play a key role in budget negotiations next month.

Gambling backers believe lawmakers will find the promise of millions of dollars more attractive than cutting state aid to communities or services to patients with catastrophic illnesses. Both cuts are part of the budget-cutting plan Lynch presented last week. The House votes on the cuts in mid-May, giving the House and Senate two weeks to negotiate a compromise. The legislative session is scheduled to end June 2.

Lynch presented his plan last week to cut $85 million in spending, raise the cigarette tax by 20 cents a pack, and restructure state debt to close a projected $220 million budget shortfall. The budget period ends June 30, 2011.

The cuts would be made to the state’s $3.2 billion, two-year budget from general taxes. The total budget is $11.5 billion once federal and other funds are included.

Lynch said 33 state workers have gotten layoff notices. That’s on top of about 300 layoffs from earlier cuts.

The joint legislative Fiscal Committee approved $25 million in cuts to this year’s budget that are part of Lynch’s overall plan for this fiscal year. Lawmakers are considering the rest of Lynch’s plan separately.

D’Allesandro and state Representative David Campbell, a sponsor of the House gambling proposal, believe some may find Lynch’s proposed cuts too painful and revolt against the veto threat — or as the details emerge of who is hurt by cuts, rally for gambling instead during negotiations.

“Anything can happen,’’ said Campbell, a Nashua Democrat. “Everybody’s concentrating on the House and the House vote right now, but how is the Senate receiving the governor’s proposal?’’

A group of Senate Democrats has been lobbying for passage of gambling because both the Senate and House proposals call for using the first $50 million to avoid social-service program cuts.

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