State: Belmont slot machines violated N.H. law
State gaming officials ordered the Lakes Region Casino in Belmont to shut down its 96 slot machines earlier this month for allegedly violating state law by paying slot winners with Visa gift cards, according to a “cease and desist” letter sent to the casino. Rick Newman, the casino’s general manager, said the slot machines will return today – with legal payouts.
New Hampshire law allows “family entertainment centers” like the one at Belmont’s former dog track, to offer redemption slot machines as long as winners are paid in points or coupons that can be exchanged for merchandise. Cash payments and “cash equivalents” are prohibited. A bill before the Legislature calls for legalizing slot machines that pay out cash winnings. But the bill as written allows slot machines at a single casino, which would be selected through a bidding process.
In its April 5 letter to Newman, the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission said paying winnings from a redemption slot machine with pre-paid Visa gift cards violated existing state law.
Commission Chairman Timothy Connors gave Newman seven days to stop the practice, according to a letter Newman shared with the Monitor. “Failure to cease and desist within seven calendar days from receipt of this letter may result in suspension and/or revocation of any and all licenses held by you as well as a referral to law enforcement,” Connors wrote.”
Chuck Saia, legal coordinator for the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, said he could not discuss the matter because it is confidential.
Reached yesterday, Newman said he immediately shut down the slot machines after getting the commission’s letter in early April. In the weeks since, the redemption slot machines have been modified to pay winners a points card that can be redeemed for merchandise, Newman said.
“They sent us a letter saying they wanted to look into whether (Visa gift) cards were okay,” Newman said. “We said, ‘Fine, we’ll go to merchandise.’ We do what (the commission) tells us to do.”
Newman said the commission’s cease and desist letter surprised him because he had told commission officials more than a year ago that he was adding redemption slot machines and paying winners with Visa gift cards. “There was absolutely no objection,” Newman said. “Nobody ever said there was anything wrong with it.”
Saia said he could not comment on Newman’s account.
The Lakes Region Casino on Route 106 offers poker, games of chance and Bingo daily. It can do so under state law because it shares the proceeds with local charities. In 2012, Newman added the redemption slot machines after seeing them in arcades at Hampton Beach and Weirs Beach. “It makes it look more like a casino,” he said.
The slot machines are located in Room 647, a name inspired by the section of state law governing gambling. Players insert a coin or token into the machine, not cash, and state law allows them to win up to 21∕2 cents for every point they win. Newman said the Lakes Region Casino was paying out only 1 cent for every point. Players were allowed to accumulate points until they had enough for a $25 Visa gift card.
Newman said players knew they could earn only pennies at a time. But he said the slot machines helped boost sales at the casino’s restaurant.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
email@example.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)