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Gambling in the Granite State

Charities concerned casino will hurt their fundraising

When lawmakers take up the state Senate’s casino bill next month, they’ll get push-back from more than police chiefs, churches and budget hawks doubtful about a casino’s promised windfall. Charities, fearing a hit to their fundraising, are readying their arguments, too.

The numbers explain why.

In the last fiscal year, nearly 500 charities collected $13.6 million from gambling under a state law that lets them host poker, blackjack, roulette and bingo games at one of 22 gambling parlors and bingo halls licensed by the state. “Charitable gaming” is the biggest fundraiser for many charities, including the Chichester Youth Association, which collected $12,456 last year.

“It takes a lot of car washes to make up for $12,000,” said the group’s president, Joe Montambeault. The group has used its gambling money to resurface ball fields, buy uniforms, keep playing fees down and donate $15,000 for improvements to the town’s park.

Other local charities that depended on charitable gaming last year include The Children’s Place and Parent Education Center in Concord ($10,787), the Concord-Merrimack County SPCA ($10,798), Concord High School’s girls’ hockey booster club ($10,273), Operation Santa Claus ($13,548) and the local Trout Unlimited chapter ($10,137).

The state gets some of the take for public education ($1.43 million last year) as do the companies licensed to hold the games. The Senate bill doesn’t do away with charitable gaming and, in fact, accounts for charity gambling in two ways.

The new casino would have to have up to 150 games for charitable gambling within its parlor. And, there is a “protection provision” in the bill that the sponsors say will cover charities if they lose customers to the proposed $425 million casino.

Under that provision, the new casino would ensure charities continue to collect whatever they collected from charitable gaming in 2012.

So, if the Chichester Youth Association saw its annual take drop to $5,000 the year after the casino opened, the casino’s owner would have to pay the association $7,456. If the association collected only $3,000 the following year, the casino would owe the group $9,456.

“It is just really important to me that charities recognize that we have really strived to make sure they are not harmed,” said Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican who helped write the casino bill. “I think all of us involved with the legislation are sensitive to the good deeds that charities do. They have voiced a concern (about losing customers to the casino) and we wanted to make sure we’ve satisfied that.”

They haven’t satisfied everybody.

Skeptical of protections

Sudhir Naik, deputy director of the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, said his office is hearing from charities concerned about their fundraising future. He tells them the only thing he can: Call legislators. “We are not the policymakers,” said Naik, whose office oversees charitable gambling. “We just try to regulate whatever policy they make.”

Rick Newman, Anthony Fusco and Dick Anagnost oversee charitable gambling at three of the 11 licensed gambling parlors in the state, in Belmont, Hampton and Manchester, respectively. Each said Friday they believe the casino will put them – and many New Hampshire charities – out of the gambling business.

They also said the protection provision won’t help. They have two concerns they intend to share with lawmakers.

First, they said, their older, small parlors in strip malls or a former dog racing track, can’t compete with a new $425 million casino that’s likely to have a restaurant, hotel and glitzy entertainment space for musical acts. They aren’t allowed to have the slot machines the casino would have nor the high-stakes games allowed at the casino.

State law caps bets for charitable games at $4 a hand.

“We don’t offer free alcohol. Most casinos do,” said Anagnost, who owns Manch Vegas Poker Room in Manchester. “There’s no limit on your bets and a new $400 million casino. Which one would you choose?”

Anagnost said his charitable gaming operation breaks even. He said he makes a living off his 14 other businesses but keeps the charitable gambling to help local charities, including his church. Newman, who oversees charitable gaming at the Lakes Region Casino in Belmont, said his finances are similarly tight.

“I don’t have any doubt we would still have people who want to come,” Newman said. “But if we lost 25 percent of the business, we’d be out.”

Even Montambeault, who supports the Senate’s casino bill, is expecting to lose gambling money for the Chichester Youth Association. “We as an organization can see the writing on the wall,” he said. “I understand what a casino will do to our organization.”

Second, Newman and the others have no faith in the bill’s protection provision for charities.

That’s because the bill requires the casino to cover a charity’s loss only if the charity hosted charitable games in fiscal year 2012 and if the charity continues hosting charitable games each year after the casino opens.

Long list of charities

Anagnost and Newman said there are more charities interested in charitable gambling than the 11 gambling parlors can accommodate. Anagnost’s location, like most gambling parlors, can accommodate 36 or 37 charities a year because under state law, gambling parlors can give a charity up to 10 days of charitable gaming a year.

Many parlors give charities the full 10 days to make the effort worthwhile.

That means the first 10 days in April might belong to a high school booster club and the next 10 days to an American Legion post. And most parlors have only one charity at a time to keep the accounting simple, although state law allows them to have up to two charities a day.

Anagnost said he rotates his long list of charities annually to accommodate as many as possible. If he continues to do that, he said, those charities that miss a year of gaming won’t be eligible for a shortfall payment from the casino.

Newman said he faces the same competitive situation. He said his casino and five others in the state, including Anagnost’s, share a list of nearly 240 charities that want to hold gambling nights. Between them, they can accommodate about 216 charities a year under the current setup.

“There are only 365 days on a calendar,” Newman said. “What are we going to do? Expand the calendar?”

If their gambling parlors close, Newman said, the threat to charities will be even greater.

Doomsday?

The casino will have at most 150 tables for charitable gaming. Even if the casino’s owner allows two charities to share the space as state law allows and cuts their gambling days from 10 to five, the casino could accommodate about 150 charities a year.

Rausch, the senator who helped write the casino bill, doesn’t buy that doomsday scenario.

He argued that people who bet on charitable games do so to benefit the charity, not necessarily to gamble. The charities would continue to enjoy that support once the casino opened if their backers believed their causes were worthwhile.

He also said there’s nothing stopping charities themselves from getting a license from the state to hold their own charitable games. He suggested they could even pool their resources and share the costs of a building and gambling equipment.

Newman said Rausch misunderstands the business.

A roulette machine costs $20,000, he said. A single poker table runs $1,000. The dealers at his gambling parlors and the other parlors are trained to watch for cheats. The building also has a pricey security system. A charity couldn’t afford those expenses, he said.

“That concept really is a throwback to the old days of charity gaming when your local chamber of commerce had a Monte Carlo night in June and everyone came out to support the chamber,” Newman said.

He and his colleagues also disagree with Rausch about their customers’ motivations for gambling.

“If you want to come to our facility or to any facility on any given night and ask the folks who they are playing for, to name the charity that day, I seriously doubt if 10 percent would even know,” he said.

Nearly 80 percent of his customers are regulars who come regardless of what charity is hosting the game. And the charity does not have to have a representative at the games except to sign the paperwork.

“When we have the Alton American Legion here, we don’t get a bunch of Legionnaires from Alton,” Newman said.

Fusco, who runs Ocean Gaming Casino at Hampton Beach, agreed. He said customers often say they are glad their gambling helps a charity, but they don’t cite a charity or come for a particular charity.

Not all worried

There is at least one charitable gaming operator who is not particularly concerned about competition from a casino. Ed Callahan runs charitable gambling at Rockingham Park in Salem and Seabrook Park in Seabrook. He draws most of his gambling customers from Massachusetts, and the crowds are big enough that charities average about $52,000 a year from their 10 days of gambling.

He hosts 37 charities at each location and would hope to continue his operation at Rockingham Park if that location wins the single casino license allowed for in the bill.

He said the casinos under way in Massachusetts pose as much of a threat to his operations. “The fact is, when you bring a casino in, it will have an impact. I think that’s the primary reason that (the bill) has guarantees for charities.”

Callahan believes charitable gambling will hold appeal for people who don’t want the risk of the higher-stakes games at casinos. “If you go into Foxwoods (casino in Connecticut) these days, you can’t find a table for less than $25,” Callahan said.

Asked if he thought the casino may put some of his colleagues who have a smaller customer base out of business, Callahan paused for a moment.

“I think over time there have been rooms that close and new rooms that open,” he said. “This is a capitalistic opportunity. It’s no different when a pharmacy closes in one town and a new one moves in.”

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

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