The Concord (NH) Monitor reported Friday that New Hampshire Motor Speedway is lobbying to build a casino, hotel and racing museum on the grounds of the Loudon oval, if state legislators legalize gambling in the Granite State later this year.
The New Hampshire state senate is currently considering a bill that would legalize “limited gambling;” allowing video slot machines and table games at six sites across the state. Until last week, NHMS was not believed to be part of their plan. But NHMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens revealed Friday that the track has hired consultants to design an on-site casino and determine the financial impact it would have on the track, the town and the state.
“We want a seat at the table because we know we could do a good job and be a responsible partner with the state,” said Gappens. “We're the largest sports and entertainment facility in all of New England. We've got a great infrastructure here. And (gambling) would compliment what we already do."
The current bill calls for limited gambling at six specific locations; a trio of existing horse racing facilities in Belmont, Seabrook and Salem, two new sites in the northern part of the state and a proposed new country club in Hudson, NH. The bill would have to be amended to include the Loudon oval, but Gappens said the speedway’s track record of hosting major events makes it a strong candidate for inclusion.
NHMS is just five miles from the Belmont venue, and Rick Newman, a lobbyist for the Lodge at Belmont, said it is unlikely both facilities would be included in a final draft of the bill. He strongly criticized Speedway Motorsports, Inc. – owners of NHMS – for being a late entrant to the discussion, and for having no experience in running casinos.
"We're already in the gambling business, and we have survived in an economy that has been very hard on our business," said Newman to the Monitor. "We've been a partner with the state for four years, and at this location for almost 25 years. We're not Johnny-come-lately with a big bag of money saying, 'Let me kick the door down.' Having cars turn left for 3½ hours isn't the same thing as running a casino."
Gappens dismissed Newman’s claim, saying, “We are not just another site. We have a 20-year track record of being an entertainment venue and generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state of New Hampshire. We're doing (these) things to be an economic stimulus in this area.”
The current wording of the bill calls for a total of 17,000 slot machines, split among six facilities. Table games – blackjack, poker, etc. – would also be legalized, but only after an additional licensing fee is paid by each venue. The first $50 million in revenue would be used to fund social service programs statewide.
The measure is not without its critics. Jim Rubens, head of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, told the Monitor, “This just shows what will happen when the door to gambling opens. This state will be crushed with gambling problems in every community, and the whole notion of limited gambling is gone."
Dover International Speedway is currently the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track to feature an on-site casino, but International Speedway Corporation recently announced plans to partner with Penn National Gaming, Inc., to build and operate a year-round casino on the grounds of Kansas Speedway. State and local officials recently awarded ISC and Penn National a gaming license and management contract to operate that casino, and ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy has said she will petition NASCAR to realign a second Sprint Cup Series date there no later than 2011.