Bill would limit size of casino entertainment venues
By MICHAEL COUSINEAU New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER - Manchester legislators are pushing to limit the size of music venues that any casino might build in New Hampshire in order to protect Verizon Wireless Arena's livelihood, and perhaps other music venues.
"The gist is going to be there will be no non-gambling venues over 1,500 seats on casino grounds," said Rep. Patrick Long, D-Manchester, who also is a city alderman.
Massachusetts already has carved out similar protections.
A casino licensee can only build a live entertainment venue that has less than 1,000 seats or more than 3,500 seats, according to its gaming law.
"That (existing) mid-range entertainment is protected from competition from casinos," said Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Public Analysis at UMass-Dartmouth.
Barrow and the center have done extensive research on casinos as part of the center's New England Gaming Research Project.
Barrow offered advice to New Hampshire lawmakers: "I think the Massachusetts law is a pretty good model."
Casino applicants must provide the gaming commission with signed agreements between them and affected live entertainment values that include "terms relating to cross marketing, coordination of performance schedules, promotions and ticket prices," according to the law.
But Massachusetts Gaming Commission spokesman Elaine Driscoll said Friday: "There's no requirement in the law that venues be given funds by the applicants."
The man who runs the arena in Providence, R.I., said he understands the concerns of venue owners and legislators.
Larry Lepore, general manager of the Dunkin' Donuts Center, said he can't compete financially with the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, about 60 miles away, when booking musical acts.
"From the day it opened, it was the kiss of death, especially for our concert business," said Lepore, who works for SMG, the same company that runs Manchester's arena.
"Even if they lose money on the show, people will eat in their restaurants and spend money in their casino," he said.
"I compete every day with agents and managers trying to get a show that I can never afford the same prices that Mohegan pays the acts," said Lepore.
A phone message left with the Mohegan Sun's media relations staff wasn't returned.
"If you want your arena to be competitive, let them have slot machines," Lapore said.
The odds might be against that, but Long plans to get someone on the House Ways and Means Committee to introduce that amendment.
The Senate this month approved Senate Bill 152, which would legalize a casino with up to 5,000 video slot machines.
Coexistence is the goal
The prime sponsor of the New Hampshire casino bill, Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he doesn't believe a Granite State casino would hurt Manchester's arena.
"Obviously, we don't want a problem. We want them to coexist," he said.
D'Allesandro said late 2014 would be "the best-case scenario" for a casino to open in New Hampshire.
"I have not heard or seen anything that would lead me to believe they would do a big entertainment complex," he said.
Rep. Peter Ramsey, who runs the Palace Theatre in Manchester, said he wants legislators to limit the size of a casino venue to protect the downtown Manchester arena.
"I'm going to do all I can so that the Verizon is not affected adversely by the casino," Ramsey said. He said he doesn't think a casino would affect his 800-seat theater because it places a strong focus on broadway shows, a niche casinos typically aren't involved in.
Tim Bechert, general manager of Verizon Wireless Arena, couldn't be reached for comment, but he recently told a city aldermanic committee that the Mohegan Sun's arena affects his business, and a New Hampshire casino possibly offering musical entertainment was a concern, according to the committee's minutes.
Andrew Herrick, marketing director at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, doesn't want a New Hampshire casino operator building a music theater or arena.
"We certainly would not want any other music venue here," he said. "It's not going to help anybody."
The ballroom, which hosts 1,800 for a seated show or 2,200 for standing room, offers about 70 shows from April through November.
"We'll either get fewer shows or consumers will pay higher ticket prices," Herrick said.
Messages weren't returned from officials at Meadowbrook, which offers summer concerts with about 6,500 fixed and lawn seats in Gilford, or the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, which hosts concerts with seating for more than 1,300.
Safe from Bay State
Jim Rubens, who heads the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, said a New Hampshire casino would hurt Granite State venues more than a larger casino farther away in Massachusetts.
"The Boston casinos are clearly going to have big time entertainment," Rubens said. "It will hurt to some extent, but it's far enough away."
But a shorter drive to a casino would hurt other venues, he said.
"The problem is if we have a casino in New Hampshire - Salem, for example - that will have a serious impact because it's much closer to existing New Hampshire entertainment venues."
Barrow said Las Vegas casinos generate about 50 percent of their revenues from non-gambling activities, such as hotels, restaurants and retail stores. It is nearing 30 percent at the Mohegan Sun, a Native American casino in Connecticut.
"That's the direction the big resort casinos are competing not only for gambling dollars but for entertainment dollars," Barrow said. "They can bid more, take a lower profit or break even and make the money somewhere else."
A greater percentage of people going to the two Connecticut casinos are not gambling there. Six years ago, 7 percent of visitors didn't gamble; today, it's around 20 percent, Barrow said.
D'Allesandro said he is open to listening to ideas about amending New Hampshire's casino bill.
"I wouldn't want anything to hurt the entertainment that we offer in New Hampshire," he said. "I want this to be an amenity that embellishes it."