Casino Town Hall Forum at Rockingham Park

Millennium Bets New Proposal Will Sway House

May 16, 2013

by S. Aaron ShamshoyanIf Rockingham Park is purchased by Millennium Gaming and rebuilt, charitable gaming will continue throughout the project either on site or at a temporary facility.

That is a relief to Larry Belair and other non-profit leaders in the greater Salem community benefiting from the close to $2 million raised annually for the organizations.

At a town hall style forum held last week in Rockingham Park’s Belmont Room, a full house heard from Bill Wortman, Co-CEO of Millennium Gaming, a Las Vegas based company with plans to purchase Rockingham Park if granted an expanded gaming license.  Wortman assured Belair charitable gaming was factored into future plans for the renovation.  “We’re trying to figure out a way we can leave this facility intact,” said Wortman.

New plans presented last week will make that possible.

A previous proposal estimated to cost $425 million would have built a facility in the footprint of Rockingham Park’s current grand stand and facility, but new plans are moving the casino to run parallel with Rockingham Park Boulevard.  Wortman said the casino could be constructed while leaving most of the current facility intact.

The new location of the casino won’t be the only change.  A clubhouse, modeled after the original track will be built to replace the current grand stand.  “We designed all of these buildings so they will fit within the community,” Architect David Climans of the Climans Green Liang Architects Inc. said.  “The entire project is going to be a complete destination resort.”

The entire property will be rebuilt, Wortman explained.  While he didn’t give an exact amount, Wortman said the new proposal would cost over $600 million which included moving the racetrack, new stables, a parking garage, a spa, convention center, and a three hundred-room hotel along with a new casino building and club house.  “We have to develop a project that is cohesive to what they’re going to build there [Massachusetts],” he said.  Restaurants would also be housed in the facility.

Some attendees raised questions about the fate of horse racing on the property.  “That’s always been part of the plan,” said Wortman.  The previous proposal from Millennium included racing also.

But the plans won’t be executed unless New Hampshire lawmakers pass an expanded gaming bill, which they have failed to do over the past few years.

Representative Robert Elliott (R-Salem) said SB 152, a Senate bill allowing for licensing of one, highly regulated casino in the state, is under review by committees within the House of Representatives.

“The bill itself is forty-five pages long,” Elliott said, a member of the Ways and Means committee, which is currently reviewing the bill.  “The future of this track could lie in the hands of the nine representatives from Salem, New Hampshire.”

Elliott said he predicted the bill will pass, but could be only six to eight votes in either direction.  He said four of the nine Salem representatives are not publically in favor of expanded gaming, but if these representatives voted in favor of the bill reducing four votes in opposition and adding four votes in favor, Elliott feels the swing vote would allow it to pass.

Representatives Patrick Bick, Marilinda Garcia, Bianca Garcia, and John Sytek have stated at candidate forums they either don’t support expanded gaming or were undecided on the matter.

Even if the bill passes lawmakers, Millennium will still need to bid on the license.  Salem Selectmen recently established a casino advisory committee with the anticipation of receiving the license.  A binding referendum in town would also have to approve the construction and operation of a casino on the grounds of Rockingham Park.

While the park’s future lies in the hands of lawmakers, town residents voted with an over 80 percent majority to favor a casino on a non-binding referendum in March.  Wortman thanked the audience of about 200 for their support.  “I want to thank you all for your vote,” he said.

Scott Spradling of the Spradling Group was the master of ceremonies for the event.  “We are really excited about the redesigned plan for Rockingham Park,” he said.