State gaming panel did a thorough, balanced job

Our job was not to answer whether a casino would be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ rather it was to figure out what rules would best serve the state

Six months ago, lawmakers created the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority with a two-part assignment: research existing gambling and offer recommendations for its appropriate regulation; and recommend a best practices regulatory system for expanded casino-based gambling.

Our job was not to answer whether a casino would be “good” or “bad” for New Hampshire, rather it was to figure out what rules would best serve New Hampshire’s citizens if the state decided to move forward with casino-based gambling.

Authority members immediately recognized the need for outside expertise. So, in August, as we began gathering information and hearing testimony, we proceeded directly into a competitive bidding process and were fortunate to be able to hire a leading national expert on gambling regulation to help us explore options and seek the best answers.

Perhaps most surprising was what we learned about the extent and characteristics of charity gambling – about 260 table games and about $75 million wagered each year. Yet there are glaring deficiencies in the regulation of this gambling. In response, the authority is proposing aggressive new financial and operational reviews of charity gaming, with a particular focus on ensuring the games are being played fairly and the dollars are being tracked accurately.

We are recommending new standards for internal controls over financial reports and the handling of money as well as new restrictions on staffing and supervision of employees. We also propose clear and concise reporting of the 35 percent of gaming revenue that game operators must pay to participating charities.

Finally, our proposed legislation creates a new commission to determine the most appropriate system for sustaining ongoing resources to charities from gambling.

The philosophy is simple: you protect the public interest by strictly regulating the gaming operators. The same concept applies to any expansion of gambling in New Hampshire.

To complete the task given to us by lawmakers, we built a new regulatory system for casino-based gambling. We took from the best practices and standards used in about 40 states around the country, and created new rules to match the unique needs of New Hampshire. Highlights include:

 • A five-member state gaming commission with responsibility for all legal gambling in New Hampshire

 • Clearly defined roles for the attorney general, the State Police and local law enforcement authorities in investigating and enforcing casino operations at all levels

 • Establishing a director of problem gambling and research and robust problem gambling regulation to maximize understanding, treatment and prevention

 • Local control to guarantee a potential host community’s residents the right to say no

 • Clear mandates on the development and cost of a casino, including minimum investments, workforce development for locals, green technology and local oversight

 • To protect existing cultural centers, there is language regarding potentially impacted non-profit and municipal entertainment venues

 • There are penalties for missed deadlines, a prohibition on any ability to “flip” a license to another owner, and all proposed regulations are merged with current state laws to avoid loopholes and confusion. There are also new civil and criminal offenses to deal specifically with casino operations.

The authority reviewed the casino landscape in New England and concluded that a single mid-size casino in southeastern New Hampshire would be viable and would likely produce $100 million annually in new state revenue. We offered suggestions on tax rates and license fees in order to ensure casino viability while maximizing potential state revenues, but we offered no recommendations on what to do with those funds.

I’m proud of the efforts of the Gaming Authority. We worked hard to step back from emotional arguments, focused on facts, and brought in experts as needed to develop a truly best practices regulatory system designed to meet New Hampshire’s unique needs. I look forward to continuing with a reasoned debate leading to a final resolution of the casino issue in the months to come.

N.H. Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, chaired the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority.

Categories: Opinion