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November 22. 2013 6:24PM

New rules planned to oversee charitable gaming

CONCORD — Charitable gaming operators would be required to undergo criminal record and background checks under a proposal to tighten state laws on charitable gambling.

The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority on Friday reviewed proposed changes that will be introduced as a bill in the 2014 legislative session to better regulate the charitable gaming industry and ensure charities receive the money they are due.

The changes were recommended by a consultant the authority hired to help it write new laws and regulations in case lawmakers decide to approve casino gambling.

White Sand Gaming consultant Maureen Williamson told the commission earlier that the state does not have the regulatory structure to determine how much is bet at the 10 charitable gaming facilities around the state.

State charities make about $13 million a year on the gaming, taking 35 percent of net earnings from the gaming halls.

One of the recommendations from Mike Williams of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission was to ensure that charities do receive 35 percent of the net earnings. Some facilities charge charities fees for rental and book keeping, etc. which results in some charities receiving less than 35 percent of the proceeds.

The commission also recommended the background and criminal records checks included in current racing laws apply to the charitable gaming operators, facility owners and senior staff.

Williams said the Attorney General's Office may not have the resources to do all the checks that would be needed, so the requirement could be phased in.

Under the proposal, all contracts with charities would be submitted to the commission. Williams said the commission would not have to approve all the contracts but instead would have the authority to reject contracts.

He said the commission did not want to create "a bottleneck" if it had to approve each contract.

But authority member Kathy Sullivan suggested the commission might want to be more specific about why contracts would be rejected.

Williamson suggested instead the commission consider approving the contracts. "There may be a bottleneck, but that is where you can effect changes," she said, and commission staff agreed.

Authority chair Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, said he was concerned the proposed changes would have on the resources of the Attorney General's Office, the charitable gaming commission and operators.

"We need to get some handle on what we want to do here," he said.

The authority also decided to include such things as tax rates and video slot machine and table game caps in its proposed legislation on a regulatory structure for casino gambling, reversing an earlier decision.

That concerned Attorney General Joseph Foster who abstained, noting his agency has long opposed casino gambling. "I don't view it as my role or the department's role to decide what the optimal casino should be," he said.

Originally, the authority decided not to include such details as casino size, minimum investments and state tax rates in its proposed legislation and agreed the fiscal and capacity information would be included in a separate report.

But on Friday, Ames said that if the numbers were not included in proposed legislation, he would introduce an amendment to the bill with that information based on what the consultant's recommendation.

"It would not make sense without it," Ames said.

Senate Bill 152 would have allowed one casino in the southern half of the state, but was killed by the House after the Senate approved it. Gov. Maggie Hassan supported the bill, which would have allowed up to 5,000 video slot machines and 159 tables at the one casino.

Sponsors of the bill say they will introduce similar legislation for the 2014 session.

The commission will meet Dec. 6 to review the draft legislation and report and again Dec. 12 to view the final report.

The authority has a Dec. 15 deadline.

grayno@unionleader.com


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