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Gambling in the Granite State

Casino panel considering tightening rules on charitable gambling

Legislators may end up considering two kinds of gambling bills in January: one with rules for a potential casino and another with tighter regulations on the widespread, state-sanctioned gambling already here.

Charitable gambling, which allows charities to raise money through table games, bingo and Lucky 7 tickets, earned 300 charities $13.6 million last year, according to the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. The state collected an additional $2.4 million off those games.

Late last week, the group working on potential gambling legislation learned from its consultant that the state isn’t regulating those games as well as it could be. According to the consultant, WhiteSand Gaming, the state’s current rules require too few background checks; interfere with the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission’s oversight of gambling houses; and don’t adequately protect charities from excess charges by the gambling halls they must use.

And if the state does legalize a casino, it shouldn’t include charitable gambling within the casino, as last year’s proposed casino bill envisioned, the consultant said. Doing so would mean that casino games and charitable games would coexist but be regulated differently. For example, the state limits what someone can wager on a table game held for charity and taxes the proceeds differently, according to the consultant’s report.

Tomorrow, the study group will discuss the consultant’s recommendations and begin deciding which, if any, should go before lawmakers.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for the legislators in the group, which also includes Attorney General Joe Foster as well as officials from the state police, the lottery and charitable gambling commissions.

“I was surprised,” said Rep. Lucy Weber, a Walpole Democrat, about the extent of charitable gambling. “I had an impression . . . of a church bingo hall, and I hadn’t realized until I was taken on a tour that we have the second-largest poker room in New England, second only to Foxwoods.”

Weber was referring to the poker room at Rockingham Park, where charities earn about $52,000 a year from just 10 days of gambling, Ed Callahan, who runs the charitable games, told the Monitor in March.

Sen. James Rausch, a Derry Republican and member of the study group, co-sponsored last year’s casino bill, which failed. The Legislature instead created the study group to propose regulations for a future, potential casino.

Last year, Rausch proposed including charitable games within the casino. At a meeting with WhiteSand Gaming last week, Rausch said he no longer thinks the two should be mixed, according to a recording of the meeting.

Rausch could not be reached yesterday. But according to the recording, Rausch now says combining casino gambling and charitable gambling would be a mistake given that they operate under different regulations.

Here are some of the recommendations WhiteSand has made to improve oversight of charitable gambling in New Hampshire:

∎ Gambling parlors should have to get their “House Rules” approved by the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission to ensure state regulations are interpreted consistently.

∎ The state should impose minimum standards on how money is counted and paid out.

∎ Gambling parlors should be required to provide security.

∎ Require the attorney general’s office to approve applications to operate gambling parlors; neither that officer nor the state police are allowed to weigh in on an applicant’s suitability.

∎ Better define the amount of proceeds a charity is entitled to. The law now says they must get at least 35 percent of “gross revenue,” but it also allows gambling operators to charge charities additional “fees.”

Paul Kelley, executive director of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, said he has proposed some of the consultant’s recommendations to the Legislature before but has not found the support needed.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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