Concord Casino operator and State Rep. Laurie Sanborn to chair new charitable gaming commission

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 08-16-2023 6:27 PM

A new commission set up to conduct an evaluation of charity gaming operations in New Hampshire is being chaired by State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, who operates one of the casinos in the state.

Sanborn, chair of the House of Ways and Means Committee, was chosen to lead the 13-person commission that will look into gaming laws in the state, including whether charities are getting a fair share of the revenue.

However, her appointment has not been without its share of scrutiny.

Both Sanborn and her husband, Andy Sanborn, own and operate the Concord Casino, housed within The Draft Sports Bar on South Main Street, and this connection has raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest in overseeing the industry’s rules and regulations.

Recently, Andy and Laurie Sanborn received approval from the city of Concord in June to build a casino spanning 43,000 square feet at the end of Loudon Road. However, the approval is being challenged in court by residents who say the public was deprived of its due process rights when the board passed the project without adequate notice.

“As multi-generational New Hampshire natives, we are eager to pay homage to all the things we love and admire about why we committed to New Hampshire and Concord,” Andy and Laurie Sanborn wrote to the Concord Planning Board as part of the casino application.

“We are very excited to present this opportunity to create a gateway property as a welcome sign to those coming to visit or passing through Concord from the west or north,” wrote the Sanborns, who both signed the letter as managing partners of Concord Commitment LLC.

On most public documents Andy Sanborn is listed as the owner or manager of various limited liability companies that run the Bedford couple’s business enterprises. For example, the building at 67 South Main Street that houses The Draft Bar and Grill and the Concord Casino is owned by Best Revenge LLC, with Andy Sanborn listed as the registered agent and manager. The Concord Casino is owned by Win Win Win LLC, with Sanborn listed as the registered agent and a member. Similarly, the Draft LLC lists Sanborn as the registered agent and manager.

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When the Concord Casino opened in 2019, both Laurie and Andy explained their vision for the business.

“In this world, you have to offer something to your customers, and we’re offering fun,” said Laurie Sanborn.

The Sanborns did not respond to email or phone call requests for comment for this story.

State Rep. Richard Ames, a member of the charitable gaming committee, declined to comment on the potential conflict of interest and said the appointment is within the frame of ethics for lawmakers.

House rules require legislators to submit a declaration of intent, whether written or verbal when a conflict of interest arises.

Those backing her nomination were fully informed by Laurie Sanborn about her casino affiliation and had taken it into account, said Ames, a Jaffrey Democrat.

“Although she [Laurie Sanborn] is chair, it is still one vote. This is a commission that has other people with special interests. The rest of us who are on the commission have a vote. She’s the chair, but she doesn’t have any special ways to make a decision,” said Ames.

Apart from having the commission chaired by a casino operator, additional concerns were raised about the need for greater representation within the commission.

The commission consisted of two Senate members, five House of Representatives members, two charity representatives, one charitable gaming operator, the state’s lottery director, and one public member appointed by the governor, and Attorney General John Formella.

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

While Edmond Talbot, executive director of the New Hampshire Council on Problem Gambling, has no objection to the study committee, he would like to see a member representing gambling addiction.

“I think there should be somebody on the panel that has some expertise in problem gambling, and it doesn’t have to be a person in recovery,” said Talbot. “If you’re going to have a liquor commission, you certainly are going to have somebody that has to deal with substances abuse to best represent the problem too.”

Under the framework of charitable gaming that includes poker, bingo, Lucky 7, historic horse racing, raffles, games of chance and card rooms, casinos are mandated to donate 35% of their gross revenue to charities and 10% to New Hampshire Lottery for public education.

The commission is tasked with examining the charity selection process, exploring the benefits of historical horse racing for charities and studying whether host communities should also partake in the profits of charitable gaming establishments.

With a budget of $150,000, the commission is required to report its findings and potential legislative recommendations by Nov. 1, 2024.

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