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June 22. 2013 10:39PM

State VFW says video poker popularity at local posts dulled by time, law

MANCHESTER - Veterans-service organizations have quietly gotten rid of video poker machines over the last several years, according to leaders who attributed the moves to tougher laws and a desire to rebrand the image of the local veterans hall.

The transition became clear last week, when leaders of Queen City Memorial VFW post approached Manchester aldermen and asked for a refund of hefty licensing fees for poker machines. The outgoing president had paid the $2,000 annual fee per machine, unaware of plans to scrap the machines.

Dana Hussey, state adjutant for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said poker machines used to be prevalent in the 51 VFW posts across the state. But as posts gave them up over the years, Manchester was the only holdout, he said.

Poker machines are located in clubs and bars across the city. They are supposed to be used for amusement only, not for illegal cash payouts.

Assistant Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said police are always looking to arrest people involved in illegal gambling. Gambling investigations are coordinated out of the Special Investigations Unit, which also handles drug crimes.

Both investigations are similar because they involve undercover work and building trust with would-be lawbreakers.

"Our concern is if it's as widespread as he indicated, no one contacted the police department," Willard said. "It shows how difficult it is to crack that culture."

He said he could not talk about whether police are investigating the post. But he said an investigation into possible gambling activities in the past would pose a greater challenge because the machines would be gone and the operation would no longer be in place to infiltrate.

The overall popularity of such machines is on the decline. For example, in 1997, the city counted 470 licensed poker machines, according to previous newspaper articles. This year, there are 120, said Kevin Kincaid, the city clerk in charge of licensing.

A former police officer, Kincaid attributes the drop in poker machines to police crackdowns and a 2000 law that made gambling a felony.

For his part, Hussey said the statewide VFW couldn't say for sure whether posts paid cash prizes to the players who won video poker games, but he said many organizations got rid of machines after the penalty for illegal gambling became a felony.

"The VFW, we don't get involved with the canteens. The less we know about what they do with these machines, the better," he said.

mhayward@ unionleader.com


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