February 18, 2016
Lynne Snierson, Blood-Horse

The New Hampshire Senate voted Feb. 18 to table a bill authorizing a casino to be located at Rockingham Park, dealing yet another blow to hopes for the revitalization of the racetrack and the return of live Thoroughbred racing.

The motion to table the legislation passed on a voice vote with all but one of the 24 senators in attendance. Last year a bill calling for the expansion of gambling with two casinos—with a single large facility to be located in the state’s southern tier but not specifically at Rockingham Park and the other designated for the economically depressed North Country—passed the Senate 13-11.

The Senate has approved a variety of expanded gambling bills in recent years, but the House of Representatives has turned down every casino bill brought to the floor during the past two decades. The 2015 bill was overwhelmingly rejected by the 400-member lower chamber.

Moreover, Gov. Maggie Hassan, who had strongly advocated for a single destination casino along New Hampshire’s southern border and included the proposed $80 million license fee in her budget during her first-term inaugural address in 2013, never mentioned a casino in her State of the State speech earlier this month.

“There is a recognition that this bill probably is not going anywhere in the House,” said Ed Callahan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park. “We’ll see what happens after the legislature gets back from vacation. Whether this comes off the (Senate) table or not down the road, who knows? It’s easy to predict the outcome in the House if it were ever to get there.”

The bill would authorize up to 3,500 video lottery machines and as many as 160 table games exclusively at the racetrack.

Millennium Gaming currently holds the option to purchase the 110-year-old track, but would exercise it only in the event the state legalizes casino gambling and the Las Vegas-based company secured a gaming license.

Millennium co-chief executive officer and co-owner William Wortman, who privately owns 20% of Rockingham Park, stated consistently in the past that if successful, restoring live Thoroughbred racing would be included in the redevelopment plans. Rockingham Park has not held a live Thoroughbred meet since 2002, or a live harness meet since 2009.

Millennium officials did not respond to a request for comment, but Callahan in January said it is likely that the racetrack will go on the real estate market shortly.

Fifty acres of what was the stable area were sold to a local businessman for $9.6 million in January 2015. That parcel is currently being redeveloped and most of the barns, dormitories, and many of the other structures have been demolished.