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Panel considers combined gambling oversight

A panel charged with drafting regulations for a future casino is considering beefing up and expanding the Lottery Commission to serve as an umbrella for gambling in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority yesterday discussed expanding the Lottery Commission from three to five members with the chair serving full time. The new commission would oversee the lottery, a casino and charitable gambling.

The lottery’s executive director would report to the commission chair as would the executive director of what is now Racing and Charitable Gaming and a proposed office of casino gaming administration and enforcement. The gaming authority would continue in an advisory role.

Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes said it made sense to include all aspects of gambling in New Hampshire under one commission to improve communication and reduce duplication. He said that including oversight of charitable gambling would help with reforms that the panel believes are needed.

The panel also 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 it presents to the Legislature in December.

“I don’t feel my role is to make those decisions for the Legislature,” said Attorney General Joseph Foster.

The panel plans to make preliminary decisions Wednesday and begin drafting 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 rejected bill would have allowed the construction of one casino with 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games. WhiteSands Gaming, the consultant hired to advise the authority, said 2,500 slots and 85 table games is a more realistic number for a casino to launch with.

Hassan hopes the commission will address concerns about the state’s ability to regulate a casino that came up last spring. The bill’s sponsor plans to file a new bill to be voted on next year, while another measure reflecting some of the gambling authority’s recommendations is expected to be filed in the House.

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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