Gambling regulatory options laid out for NH oversight panel
CONCORD -- Out-of-state experts in gambling regulation on Thursday laid out several regulatory options for New Hampshire, should lawmakers decide next year to legalize casino gambling in the state.
The state's Gambling Regulatory Oversight Authority heard from its newly hired consultant, attorney Maureen Williamson, who heads regulatory advisory practices at White Sand Consulting of Las Vegas.
The nine-member panel also spent time listening to Gerald Aubin, director of the Rhode Island Lottery, which regulates not only the lottery in that state but also its casino at Twin Rivers and video slot machines parlor in Newport.
The authority is charged with reporting to state lawmakers by Dec. 15 on how best to regulate existing gambling in the state, including charitable gaming, and casino gambling, should it be legalized.
As White Sand begins its review, Williamson said, she will work to "be sure you understand all the options and alternatives available to you and understand what your choices in those arenas mean in terms of financial integrity and operational integrity and the ability of New Hampshire to retain first-class operations."
Williamson said she will look at gambling and regulatory structures in "comparative states," Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as other states which have recently adopted casino gambling, such as Pennsylvania and Maryland, and also the "linchpin" gambling states of Nevada and New Jersey.
She said the goal is to "tailor something that really works for New Hampshire."
Williamson said there are three regulatory models: a single agency with separate licensing and enforcement bureaus; separate agencies handling the licensing and regulation, and enforcement; and having gaming regulation within the lottery commission, but with a "segregated investigative function resting with the attorney general or state police."
The similar goal of all three models, she said is to separate licensing from the investigative and enforcement areas.
Whatever model is chosen, Williamson said, "there should be "absolute clarity as far as the responsibilities go. Who is responsible for the adjudication of the licensing decision? Who runs the criminal history checks? There should be no overlap of responsibilities.
"A well-crafted statute will tell potential operators everything they need to know about a jurisdiction," she said.
Questioned about charitable gaming -- a big business in New Hampshire -- by authority chairman Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, Williamson said New Hampshire is unique.
She said that while all but five states have some form of charitable gaming, in most state it is restricted to Bingo.
Not only does New Hampshire have charitable table games, "I was surprised to see it institutionalized to the degree that there are businesses that conduct the operations for the charities," she said.
"You have unique considerations in New Hampshire given the number of sites available and the fact that the definition of a game of chance includes table games, such as blackjack, roulette, craps," said Williamson.
Williamson said that New Hampshire should have stronger regulations in place over charitable gaming.
Although the maximum wager for a charitable game is four dollars, "you still need to have the same integrity of those games as you would any other operation on the state.
"The conduct of a roulette or a blackjack game in a charitable environment is no different than the conduct of that game in a commercial environment.
Timothy J. "Ted" Connors, chairman of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, said his agency, with "limited funding," is doing its best to regulate and oversee charitable gaming in New Hampshire.
"We have nine mini-casinos in the state," Connors said. "Rockingham Park is the second- or third-largest card room in New England.
"People don't realize what we have in this state," he said.
On casino gambling, Williamson recommended the authority use legislation that was defeated earlier this year in the House, Senate Bill 152, as the "jumping off position" for new legislation and proposed regulations.
The bill, backed by Gov. Maggie Hassan and the state Senate, called for slot machines and table games at a single location in southern New Hampshire.
Williamson said that after reviewing four gambling bills considered during this year's legislative session, she found that Senate Bill 152 is "further along in incorporating key concepts. You can see the continuum of the process.
"That omnibus bill acknowledged that adjudicatory decisions are separate from investigative decisions and apportions criminal enforcement responsibilities," she said. "It's a very good workable base and I think a statute worthy of consideration could come out of that diligent work."
Rhode Island lottery director Aubin, a former Providence deputy police chief, said his state began a lottery in 1974 and expanded to keno, a dog track and a jai alai facility and, eventually, video lottery terminals to the Twin Rivers facility in Lincoln and to a facility in Newport.
Earlier this year, 66 table game were added to the 4,700 video lottery terminals at Twin Rivers, Aubin said. He said there will soon be 80 tables at the facility.
Aubin said table games are more labor-intensive to regulate than video lottery machines.
"We had seven people overseeing our video lottery terminal operations, which generates $300 million net," but, he said 32 state staffers oversee the table games, which generate about $6 million, because there is a greater chance of problems due to "the human element."
Aubin said Rhode Island expanded into table games because "we were preparing ourselves for Massachusetts," which is moving toward full-fledged casino gambling at several locations.
Aubin said Rhode Island officials viewed it as "insurance to maintain our video lottery terminals the best we can. We still anticipate losing revenue, but if we had failed to (add table games), we will potentially lose a tremendous amount of revenue with casinos to the north of us."
Aubin said Rhode Island maintains strong control over "all aspects of the internal operations of the facilities," down to "making sure there are enough paper towels in the rest rooms.
"There is nothing (the owners) can do without asking our permission," he said. "Nothing."