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Consultant suggests stronger charitable gaming law

A consultant to a panel working on potential casino regulations recommended yesterday that New Hampshire strengthen the regulations for charity gambling, as well.

Consultant Maureen Williamson of WhiteSands Gaming told the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority that stronger internal controls need to be enforced on the private operators running the games to ensure the charities and state are getting their correct share of the take, especially from table games. She suggested treating charitable games the same as those operated by a casino.

Williamson said her analysis found no indication the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission was failing to optimize its resources or had any operational deficiencies. But Williamson said the industry that provides casino nights for charities has grown to the point where stricter controls are needed. She said the public gambling at events for charities are entitled to the same protections as are being contemplated for a casino.

The law calls for charities to get 35 percent of the profit after expenses, but Williamson said it isn’t clear whether charities are getting the right amount.

“They’re getting 35 percent of something,” she said.

She said some private game operators are allowed to deduct fees for various costs, but what is allowed needs to be clarified. Commission Director Paul Kelley said efforts to eliminate fees have failed in the Legislature in recent years. He said different operators charge anywhere from nothing to fill out paperwork filed with the state to $500, which cuts into the charity’s profit. He said the paperwork should be the same regardless of location.

More than 300 charities in New Hampshire raised $4.7 million last year through poker and table games, according to the commission.

Williamson also said operators should pay the costs for security and background checks as a cost of doing business.

“Gaming is a privilege, a revocable privilege,” she said.

She recommended that lawmakers consider making changes to charitable gambling regulations separately from those for a casino.

“The problem has taken a long time to build. It’s going to take a long time to fix,” she said.

The New Hampshire panel must submit draft legislation on casino regulations to lawmakers by Dec. 15.

The panel was created after the House killed a casino bill this year that had passed the Senate with strong backing from Gov. Maggie Hassan. The bill rejected in May would have allowed the construction of one casino with 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games.

Hassan hopes the commission will address concerns about the state’s ability to regulate a casino that came up last spring. The sponsor of the bill plans to file a new bill to be voted on next year.

Casino supporters are concerned New Hampshire will lose revenue to Massachusetts, which is in the process of licensing three casinos and one video slots parlor. New Hampshire has no personal income or general sales tax and supporters also believe revenue from a casino could help pay for highway improvements and other state programs.

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