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N.H. gambling panel to review preliminary draft legislation; charity gambling considered separately

A panel working on regulations for a future casino in New Hampshire also wants to make changes to existing laws governing charity gambling.

The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority decided yesterday to draft legislation that looks at the state’s existing rules separately from those it is writing to regulate a casino if one is approved.

The panel plans to review preliminary drafts Nov. 22. It must deliver draft legislation to lawmakers by Dec. 15.

No final decision was made on how many changes to recommend being made immediately or if some should be studied first, especially in the case of charity gambling, which raises about $13 million annually for the organizations.

Racing and Charitable Gaming Director Paul Kelley said he is working on changes to the law that include ending the practice of commercial operators of games of chance charging the charities fees that cut into their 35 percent share of the take. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to win the same changes from lawmakers over the years.

Attorney General Joe Foster questioned whether the charities’ share should be reconsidered if the state begins stiffening regulations on the commercial operators of the games because they come with a cost.

“Let’s stop this fiction of charity gaming. It’s not. It’s commercial gaming with a certain percentage going to the charities,” said Manchester attorney Kathy Sullivan.

Foster agreed it was a business, but said that changing requirements – including criminal background investigations – would cost them.

State Rep. Richard Ames, a Jaffrey Democrat and the panel’s chairman, noted that hundreds of charities depend on the system and reminded the panel that one of its charges is to ensure charity gambling is sustained.

Members reiterated support for a beefed-up Lottery Commission that would oversee the lottery, a casino and charitable gambling. Ted Connors, chairman of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, suggested keeping his group separate, but others on the panel disagreed and said charitable gambling would benefit from the larger, umbrella group’s resources.

The panel does not plan to include financial details about a casino – such as the number of authorized video slots or tax rates – in the draft legislation.

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.

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.

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