Residents worry that proposed casino in Concord will bring substance abuse and prostitution to the area

  • Andy Sanborn, former state senator and owner of Draft Sports Bar & Grill and the Concord Casino, a small-scale charitable gaming operation in downtown Concord, has proposed a 43,000-square-foot casino, bar and hotel on the city's east side.

  • Andy Sanborn, former state senator and owner of Draft Sports Bar & Grill and the Concord Casino, a small-scale charitable gaming operation in downtown Concord, has proposed a 43,000-square-foot casino, bar and hotel on the city's east side.

Monitor staff
Published: 1/19/2023 3:39:41 PM
Modified: 1/19/2023 3:39:23 PM

Cathy Bernard of regularly hikes and walks her dogs a few lots down from where businessman and former state senator Andy Sanborn is proposing to build a charitable gaming casino off Loudon Road in Concord. 

The construction of the 43,000-square-foot building would impact wildlife in the area, recreational activities like hunting and hiking and neighboring communities, she said. 

“I’ve been in Concord for over 30 years and this is an area where my kids did a lot of recreational things,” Bernard said. “I’m not sure the demographics of the city and the capital of the state of New Hampshire needs two gambling facilities inside of it.” 

Bernard was one of nine people voicing concerns at the proposal Wednesday night at the Planning Board meeting, including former politician and churchgoer Mark Hounsell of Conway, who spoke on behalf of the Word of Life Christian Fellowship off Loudon Road.

“Gambling affects cities and would serve as a magnet and draw a lot of people in,” Hounsell said. “I don’t use words like ‘undesirable,’ but it does bring problems to the community like drug abuse, thievery, sex trafficking, prostitution and it’s a business of robbing from the poor to pay for the habit.”

His concerns echoed those of the other churchgoers in the audience. For an area that is already low-income, the presence of a casino could increase poverty and decrease property values, others argued. 

The first phase of the project, which was up for conditional approval and determination of completeness Wednesday night, would be a 24,000-square-foot gaming room with 634 seats and an 8,500-square-foot restaurant and brew-pub that could hold up to 15o diners. The new building would be located near the  intersection of Loudon and Sheep Davis roads and close to Interstate 393 off a small street named Break O’Day Drive. Future plans call for a hotel and event center.

Ultimately, board members granted conditional approval and determined the application complete. The proposal will come before the board again next month.

Sanborn owns and operates The Draft Sports Bar & Grill and the Concord Casino, a small charitable gaming establishment in downtown Concord. 

As part of charitable gaming operations, the state of New Hampshire requires 35% of gross revenue be donated to charities every 10 days, Sanborn said, and since the launch of his first casino in 2019, he has donated to more than 36 local charities and plans to expand to 72. Charities include educational funding, animal welfare, addiction services, homelessness, veteran support, food pantries, elderly housing, children’s programs, retirement homes and more, he said. 

“Fundraising is always the key for most of our non-profits,” said Norman Roberge, treasurer of the Concord Lions Club, which aids schools with eye and ear testing services and equipment. “We are excited for this construction because it will get more dollars to us and any dollars we get go back to the community.”

The club does over 3,000 screenings a year and about 10% of students need additional corrective action, Roberge said. With the additional funding, the club hopes to purchase better equipment to help students and nurses. 

Additionally, the establishment will employ over 250 people and bring more visitors to the east side of the city, according to the application. That wasn’t enough to sway opponents.

“I am deeply concerned about this project,”  said community organizer Fisto Ndayishimiye. “Although the casino might bring in more jobs, the vast majority of those jobs are minimum wage and they’re not jobs that will lift people out of poverty. Is a casino what we want to put Concord on the map?” 

To aid in gambling addiction, the casino will have resources on site and offer self-exclusion which is voluntarily entered into by someone that struggles with gambling, Sandborn said. If they arrive on site and have agreed to self-exclusion, they are escorted off the property. 

Others welcomed the proposal.

“I am a low-stakes gambler and some of what I have heard here tonight is a little frightening,” said Jason Belyea of Concord. “There is no sex trafficking, drug abuse or prostitution coming from The Draft. They’re very responsible business owners and I sit on the board of a non-profit and a lot of us do rely on those funds.”

Steering the conversation away from the proposed use of the facility, other residents expressed concerns over the environmental impacts of the site, how the construction of the facility might impact property and the size of the proposed establishment. 

“Gambling is inherently regressive but let’s get back to the structure itself,” said Bruce Currier of Bow. “Phase one is simple, like a cannon’s nose out of a tent. Phase two is my concern; This will be one of the largest buildings in Concord once done and it will have a significant visual impact on the area.”

Over the next month, Sandborn and his design team will finalize the proposal and prepare for final submission and approval ahead of the February 15 meeting where planning board members will consider public testimony. 

Because the development is of regional impact, both the Pembroke and Loudon planning boards will be notified.

Jamie Costa

Jamie Costa joined the Monitor in September 2022 as the city reporter covering all things Concord, from crime and law enforcement to City Council and county budgeting. She graduated from Roger Williams University (RWU) in 2018 with a dual degree in journalism and Spanish. While at RWU, Costa covered the 2016 presidential election and studied abroad in both Chile and the Dominican Republic where she reported on social justice and reported on local campus news for the university newspaper, The Hawks' Herald. Her work has also appeared in The *Enterprise *papers and the *Cortland Standard *and surrounding Central New York publications. Costa was born and raised on Cape Cod and has a love for all things outdoors, especially with her dog.

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