MANCHESTER - Charitable gaming in New Hampshire is low stakes with few frills.
"I explain to some people when they get excited here, we're not on TV. We're not going to win a million dollars," player Eric Charette said during a break from a poker tournament at the ManchVegas Poker Room. "If you're here trying to grind out your rent, then you shouldn't be playing."
Jamie Timbas is a partner in the Granite State Poker Alliance LLC. Timbas' business runs the "ManchVegas" rooms on South Willow Street and another operation in Keene. He estimated about 50 different charities are waiting to get in on the action between the two venues.
That doesn't mean anybody can scrape together a fundraiser and try to partner with a business such as Timbas' in the name of "charity." An organization's nonprofit status must be obtained through the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office of Charitable Trusts, and the charity must then find an available calendar date with one of the professional operators that have met the licensing requirements of the New Hampshire Racing and Gaming Commission.
In addition, venue employees must be licensed, which means submitting to a background check; the tables must be under video surveillance; and careful records must be kept documenting the money coming in and out the door.
"They keep a very thorough watch on it all," Timbas said.
A bulletin board outside the manager's office at ManchVegas displays the various licenses required to run such an operation in the Granite State. Also on display are separate booklets - the New Hampshire Rules on Games of Chance and another titled New Hampshire Law on Games of Chance. Both are required to be on display should any patron care to review.
Timbas said there is also a players' manual available listing the rules of every game the house offers. And if anything of the required documentation is missing when the state shows up for a random inspection, Timbas could lose his license.
The maximum bet for table games such as blackjack and roulette is $4. Tournaments are a much bigger draw with a higher reward.
Chips in tournament games such as Texas Hold-Em have no intrinsic value. They essentially serve as a score-keeping device to award prizes to the top finishers.
Players buy in for the right to play a particular game and receive an established number of chips.
If they lose all of their chips, they can buy more at costs that vary according to how long the game has been running at the time of the "re-buy." All money spent buying chips during the game, both original buy-in and the re-buys, goes into the same pot.
The state gets its cut first, 3 percent of the amount wagered. The remainder is split three ways, with players, the game operator and eligible charities receiving a share.
Each facility sets its own prize schedule and can allocate up to 80 percent of the money in the pot for player prizes.
At the ManchVegas Poker Room in Manchester, for example, prizes in tournament games are based on how many people play. Ten percent of the players win, the rest lose.
About halfway through the game, buy-ins are stopped and the house counts up the money that has been wagered. ManchVegas designates 75 percent of this total wagered for prizes,
As play continues, players are ranked in the order in which they are eliminated. The last 10 percent remaining in the game win prizes, with the final player standing receiving the most money.
In a 40-player game, for example, the last four players in the game, representing the top 10 percent, are paid. The winner receives 45 percent of the prize pool. The last player eliminated finishes second and gets 25 percent. The third- and fourth-place finishers receive 18 and 12 percent of the pot.
Payout percentages vary depending on the number of players in the game, since 10 percent the total number of players are eligible for prizes. State rules require the prize percentages and policies to be posted.
As another example, say 10 people are playing. If they each buy $100 in chips, that would be a total of $1,000. The state would take 3 percent of that, or $30.
That would leave $970. The law says you cannot payout more than 80 percent in prizes. In this example, that would be $776 in prize money to be distributed. Continuing with that math: $1,000 less $30 (state) less $776 (prizes), that leaves a net of $194, of which the charity would get 35 percent, or $67.90, and the game operator would get the remainder, $126.10.
And the amount a player can spend to hold 'em is also set by the state at $250 .
The players joining Charette at the table were familiar with the latest efforts at the State House to allow a large-scale casino or two to set up shop in New Hampshire.
Lisa Gravel of Manchester, who said she plays probably twice a week, said the state's charity-based format works well to keep the jackpots high enough to draw players and low enough to not break many budgets.
"It's not like they're going to win $10,000 or something crazy like that. It's entertainment," she said. "I would hate to see that affect rooms like this."