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N.H. Charities: Casino Would Hurt Us

Concord — More than 300 charities in New Hampshire that raise money through poker and table games may find themselves scrambling for customers if the state legalizes a casino, a House panel studying the proposal heard yesterday.

Witnesses told a special casino subcommittee that some businesses that operate the games for charities could close if a casino cuts into their bottom line. They said that would force the charities to either look for other operators to squeeze them into packed schedules or to run the casino operations themselves.

Paul Kelley of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission said the Senate bill to legalize a casino guarantees charities that raised money through the games of chance in 2012 the same amount in future years if they continue to use the same fundraising method.

If a New Hampshire casino causes some operators to go out of business, the charities could run a one-day event to be protected under the bill’s provision, he said. But he acknowledged the charities would have to provide the gambling equipment, a location for the games and staff to run them.

The income-protection provision only applies to charities that raised money through games of chance in 2012 and continue to do so.

The state has about 10 locations for charities to raise money through games of chance. State law limits the charities to 10 days a year, which in turn limits the number of charities that can participate in the fundraising activity at each location. Charities raised $4.7 million under the restrictions last year, Kelley said.

Smaller locations may have a few dozen people gambling on a week day, but larger venue’s such as Rockingham Park race track may have well over 1,000 gamblers on a weekend day, he said.

“Candidly, in my mind, the Legislature legalized casinos in 2005 in the form of charities,” Kelley said.

He estimated his agency currently is regulating 250 table games.

“We have casino gambling in New Hampshire now,” he said.

Edward Callahan, president of Rockingham Venture Inc., which owns and operates Rockingham Park race track in Salem, said the legislative action in 2005 allowed professionals to run “Monte Carlo” nights beginning in 2006. He said Rockingham Gaming has run games of chance at Rockingham since 2009 and in Seabrook since 2010.

The Senate passed a bill legalizing one site with up to 5,000 video slot machines and 150 table games, but the House has never passed a casino bill. The House is to vote on the proposal at the end of May.

Rockingham Park is one of the potential sites for a casino. Callahan told lawmakers charities with operations inside a casino could make three-to-four times as much because some gamblers would be attracted to games that have a low bet limit. New Hampshire’s maximum bet limit for charitable games is $4.

Callahan said a casino might set a minimum bet limit of $25 for its table games.

Anthony Fusco, owner of Ocean Gaming in Hampton, told the committee he can’t compete with a casino because video slots are a powerful draw and moneymaker that don’t require staff to operate. Fusco said casinos also can offer alcoholic beverages hours a day when charity rules require him to stop serving at 1 a.m. Also, he said, the racing commission has a moratorium on approving new table games — something Kelley blamed on a lack of staff to handle the requests.

Gamblers will ask why he does not have the latest table games and video slot machines, Fusco said.

“If I can’t compete, why in the world would they want to come to my facility? A gambler is a gambler,” he said.