When is casino gambling not really casino gambling? When charities are the beneficiary.
Charitable gaming has been around for a long time, but in the last decade, it has grown by leaps and bounds.
Charities benefit to the tune of more than $13 million a year from table games, Lucky 7s and bingo, according to information supplied by the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission to the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority last fall.
The authority was appointed to determine a regulatory structure for casino gambling in the state, one of the main concerns raised last spring when the House defeated Senate Bill 152, which would have allowed one high-end casino in New Hampshire.
But during its work, the authority's consultant raised a red flag about the pervasiveness of charitable gaming. White Sand Gaming consultant Maureen Williamson said the state does not have the regulatory structure needed to determine how much is bet at the 10 charitable gaming sites across the state.
In addition, the state lacks controls to determine whether the games are run fairly or charities and the state receive all the money due them.
By law, charities have to receive 35 percent of net earnings from the gaming halls, but many do not because the game operators charge fees for such things as paperwork and hall rental.
As a result, the authority decided to propose two bills for this session: One would establish the regulatory structure to oversee all gaming in the state, including the New Hampshire Lottery; charitable gaming and racing; and a casino, if lawmakers decided to go down that road. The second bill would revamp the state's charitable gaming laws.
On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a public hearing on House Bill 1630, which covers the charitable gaming changes.
The bill, sponsored by authority members Reps. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, and Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, and Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, addresses many of the issues raised by Williamson, including background and criminal records checks for charitable gaming operators, site owners and senior staff.
Contracts would have much greater scrutiny under the bill, and the money trail would be more transparent.
The bill also deals with what are called "gray machines" - video lottery or poker machines that the state does not regulate but the cities and towns do, which essentially means no one is watching.
The bars, clubs and restaurants that have the machines are not allowed to make cash payments, but operators have been known to anyway.
Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission officials told the authority they had no way to determine how much money was being bet through the unregulated machines.
Williamson told the authority that people frequenting charitable gaming sites have a right to know the games and machines they are playing are on the up and up, just as a gambler at a casino does.
Oversight of the industry has bounced around state agencies for a while and has often been a political football.
Charitable gaming used to be regulated by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, but game operators felt they were the poor stepchild receiving scant attention. So the charities and the operators pushed to move regulation to the racing commission, which made some sense because live racing was disappearing.
But the commission lacks the manpower to oversee the 10 sites, so the authority decided to put some teeth in state statutes.
House Bill 1630 would also establish a commission to study the situation, draft legislation and regulations, and finalize a report by December 2015 to get a better handle on charitable gaming.
Operators and charities turned out last summer for a public hearing urging the authority to leave the charitable gaming industry alone and regulation with the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission.
The same folks are not likely to embrace the new bill and all the changes proposed.
To Investigate or Not: Whether former Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, faces a full-blown Legislative Ethics Committee investigation over how he came to be the executive director of what used to be the Local Government Center will be determined by the end of the month.
The Ethics Committee meets Jan. 27 and is expected to decide whether an investigation is warranted.
The committee voted last year, 6-0, to open a preliminary investigation after Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, filed a complaint alleging Bragdon violated both legislative ethics guidelines and state law in taking the $180,000-a-year position with what is now HealthTrust.
Bragdon maintains he followed all the proper procedures and laws in taking the position, noting he has said repeatedly he would recuse himself from any legislation issue or discussions about the organization and its public risk pools.
The committee's decision to begin a preliminary investigation is the first since 2010, when the state GOP filed a complaint against Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, over his involvement in a Liquor Commission enforcement action against a Keene bar owned by his friend.
Eaton lost a reelection bid, and the matter became moot.
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Following Granny: Last week, activists began a trek from Dixville Notch, where voters typically gather to cast the first ballots of presidential primary and general elections, to Nashua to highlight concerns about corruption in Washington.
Those joining the trek include former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks and Ben and Jerry's founder Ben Cohen.
Dubbed the NH Rebellion, the group's goal is to recruit residents to ask one question of all 2016 presidential candidates: "How will you end the system of corruption in Washington?"
The question is, will "the question" move candidates off their scripted talking points?
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Who Has the Bucks?: The Republican primary to fill the District 1 Executive Council seat, vacant since the death of longtime Councilor Ray Burton last year, will be held Tuesday.
The result of the three-way race among Christopher Boothby of Meredith, Joseph Kenney of Wakefield and Mark Aldrich of Lebanon will depend largely on who turns out to vote.
Two of the candidates have significantly more money to fuel their get-out-the-vote efforts, according to receipt and expenditure reports filed with Secretary of State Bill Gardner's office Wednesday.
Boothby raised $10,010 in the past two weeks for a total of $53,805 and has spent $39,960, with $13,845 in cash remaining.
Kenney raised $20,850 in the past two weeks, including a $20,000 loan to his campaign, for a total of $40,910. His campaign spent $10,071, leaving cash of $30,839.
Aldrich raised $550 for his campaign, $500 coming from his former boss' wife, Patricia Humphrey, for a total of $740. His campaign spent $645 and has cash of $95.
Democrat Michael Cryans of Hanover, who does not have a primary, raised $32,042 during the past two weeks, for a total of $50,152. His campaign has spent $2,063, leaving $48,089 in cash on hand.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will have to do some serious fundraising after the primary to catch up to Cryans.
The special election for the District 1 seat is town meeting day, March 11.
Goodbye Stretch: The House on Wednesday will honor former Rep. Richard "Stretch" Kennedy, a Hopkinton Republican, who died last week at the age of 80.
Kennedy was tall, big and loud and was not the least bit politically correct.
He was gruff and could frame an issue in a very uncharitable manner.
But underneath, he was a kind and generous man who liked to remind me his family used to own a string of weekly newspapers from Connecticut to Maine.
There was no mistaking where Stretch stood on an issue, solidly to the right and feverish about gun rights. He backed Republicans.
But he counted liberal Democrats among his friends in the House and was very pragmatic.
One primary night when Jay Lucas prevailed as the Republican gubernatorial nominee over Fred Bramante, Jim Rubens and Emile Beaulieu in a hard-fought contest, we were waiting at CR Sparks in Bedford for the candidates to appear together to make it look like a united front.
Stretch sat down on the press platform and started talking. He told me Lucas better enjoy his evening because then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen was going to slaughter him in the general election, and she email@example.com
You couldn't fool Stretch.