Legislators are pushing for a bill next year to prevent casinos from cutting into payouts to charities by imposing rental fees.
Under the state's charitable gaming laws, casinos are currently allowed to charge charities rent for designated gaming days. At the same time, the law says the charities are to receive 35% of the casino revenue. The rental fees, in some cases, take half of the money the charity should have received.
The amounts being paid out and charged as rent are significant. Since the legalization of charitable gaming in 2006, the industry has experienced significant growth with establishments like The Brook in Seabrook, a Las Vegas-style casino, raking in at least $1 million in gross revenue every month.
"The model has basically outgrown what it was back in the days of early charitable gaming. It was very, very small profit margins for both people who are running the operation (and) for the charities themselves," said Rep. Fred Doucette, a Salem Republican and one of the sponsors for the bill that seeks to eliminate rent charged to charities. "Now we have these profitable 14 locations, and the rent component was definitely long overdue for being written out of the statute."
The Lottery Commission allows casinos to determine their rental rates based on the "fair rental value of the property for any use," resulting in varying fees across establishments. For instance, The Brook charges $375 per day, while The River and Casino Bar in Nashua charges $600, and The Moose Casino and Tavern in Nashua charges $375. Wonder Casino in Keene charges charities between $375 and $750 per day.
In some cases, these rents cut charitable donations in half. Concord Casino takes in annual revenues of about $1 million, according to a Concord Monitor analysis of the growth of the state's gambling industry. During the first half of this year, the casino kept about $80,000 that otherwise would have gone to charities had it paid out the full 35%.
Rep. Doucette sits on the commission that was recently convened to study the state's charitable gaming operations.
"The commission on charitable gaming does not negate my responsibility to legislate," he said. "It puts that money back in their (charities') pockets for service delivery because, at the end of the day, there's more money for the charities."
Simultaneously, the commission tasked with studying the recent shifts in charitable gaming, historical horse racing and industry growth is progressing in its efforts.
Following initial meetings to familiarize members with charitable gaming, the commission has designated $125,000 from the $150,000 allocated by the Legislature to hire consultants. The funds come from the lottery commission's budget.
Patrick Abrami, the commission's chair, said the consultants will delve into New Hampshire's charitable gaming landscape, including evaluating the revenue split between the state, charities and casinos.
The state's unique model of charitable gaming mandates that 35% of a casino's gross revenue go to charities, with an additional 10% allocated to the state's lottery commission for public education.
"We are making progress and moving forward," said Abrami. "We are going to take this where it leads us, and in terms of anything that we think needs to be looked at and make recommendations for changes in the way we do charitable gaming in the state."
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