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October 31. 2013 9:52PM

Commission of five proposed to oversee gambling in NH

CONCORD — A proposal to regulate gambling in New Hampshire with a five-member Lottery and Gaming Commission gained favor with most members of the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority Thursday.

The new commission would have separate divisions for the lottery, casino gambling and racing and charitable gaming while the authority would serve an advisory roll.

The authority is to recommend legislation establishing a regulatory structure before lawmakers consider approving casino gambling in New Hampshire.

The authority was appointed after the House killed Senate Bill 152 last year. The Senate passed the bill to have casino gambling in New Hampshire, which had the backing of Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The authority has grappled with either expanding the current Lottery Commission to oversee a new casino or creating a separate commission to oversee the casino or all gambling in the state.

At Thursday's meeting, Chairman Rep. Richard Ames, R-Jaffrey, presented four regulatory models and most members agreed with the lottery and gaming commission including a racing and charitable gaming division as well.

Authority member and Department of Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes noted his agency includes seven large divisions, "but we all have a common theme: public safety."

He said having all of gambling oversight under one agency would improve communications and eliminate duplication.

Barthlemes as well as Attorney General Joseph Foster suggested a racing and charitable gaming division be included in the model.

Barthelmes said implementing the reforms needed for charitable gaming may not be the primary mission of the authority, but including it in the new structure would ensure it would be addressed or five years down the road the same issues will be there.

Under the plan, the five-member commission would include a full-time chair and four part-time commissioners. The lottery division would have its own executive director as would the casino gaming administration and enforcement division. The executive directors would answer to the commission chair.

A separate commission may be established to select the location and the casino operator.

Authority member Kathy Sullivan suggested the commission members have backgrounds in fields such as law enforcement, finance and the lottery so there would be some expertise.

The proposal "does not start totally from scratch," Sullivan said, "but is not bound to stick with what we have now.

Also authority members generally agreed with White Sand Gaming consultant Maureen Williamson's suggestion that until the state better regulates charity gaming, it should not be included within a commercial casino.

She said there should not be two different standards in the same facility and the public will not make the distinction. Earlier she told the authority the state does not have the regulatory structure to determine how much is bet at the 10 charitable gaming facilities around the state.

Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, who authored a provision in SB 152 to protect charities that sponsor gaming from revenue loss once a commercial casino opens.

He said he would not include a similar provision in future legislation until the issues around charitable gaming are resolved.

James Nickerson of White Sand Gaming presented financial and capacity data to the commission. He said the demographic data indicates there is sufficient population in southern New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts to support a resort casino in the state.

He suggested a facility with 2,500 video slot machines and 85 table games was more realistic than the 5,000 slots and 150 table games included in SB 152.

The location and population would draw interest from the top tier of casino and resort operators, Dickerson told the authority. He said the minimum requirements would probably be exceeded by proposals.

But he said what happens in Massachusetts, which has approved three resort casinos and a video slot parlor, will have a significant impact on what happens in New Hampshire.

Casino supporters are concerned the Massachusetts facilities would reduce New Hampshire's revenue and draw Granite Staters to the Bay State.

SB 152 sponsors say they will introduce a similar bill for the 2014 session.

The authority decided not to include specific financial information such as tax rates and the numbers of slot machines or table games in its proposed legislation but will include it in its report.

The commission meets at 1 p.m. Wednesday to make preliminary decisions and will work on draft proposed legislation and its report.

The authority has a Dec. 15 deadline.

grayno@unionleader.com


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