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The Slots Plan at the Rockingham Park in New Hampshire

At Rockingham Park, history is very evident outside on the racing track, where thoroughbred racing and harness racing has taken place for more than one hundred years. But the present condition of the racing park has more to do with the felt tables and poker chips inside its poker gaming area. As the debate continues to heat up over the possibility of allowing slot machines at the park, the state non-profit organizations like The Rock are already making good earnings off another example of casino-style gaming.

Since opening almost three years ago, the racing park's poker room-which also offers the games of blackjack, roulette and craps-has grown from about 12 casino tables open 3 times a week to sixty casino tables that are open everyday. Games of luck have become a significant business in the state. Last year, a total of $45 million was wagered on non-profit casino table games in New Hampshire.

For facilities like Rockingham Park to offer games of chance, they must pay a designated non-profit organization thirty-five percent of the gross income and pay the state either three percent or ten percent-depending on the type of casino game-for each night of charitable gaming. Paul Kelley, director of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission said on July 25th, 2009 that charities earned a total of $11.7 million last year from games of luck while the state earned a total of $2.7 million. The state does not require Rockingham to report its earnings from charitable gambling.

Park manager Ed Callahan did not respond to requests for comment about the issue. State law permits games of luck to be hosted and operated as long as there is a qualified nonprofit organization benefiting from the casino games. Law permits for a maximum wager of no more than $4. Eleven gaming facilities in the state are licensed to offer charitable casino table games. Kelley said that games of luck have been allowed in the state since 1955 but laws and regulations were not always strictly monitored. Before 2006, charitable gaming was monitored by the office of the attorney general and local law enforcement.

Kelley said that when the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission took over the state's charitable gaming in 2006, facilities were frequently doing practices against gaming laws as local law enforcement agencies looked the other direction for the sake of charity. All charities must fulfill the 17 qualifications set by the state and no non-profit organization can sponsor more than ten casino games per year. For different local charities, sponsoring casino games at the park has proven to be a good source of fundraising.

Henry LaBranche, who is coordinating the old Depot renovation project for the town of Salem, said that about half of the money raised for their project has come from charitable gaming nights at Rockingham Park. About $75,000 has been raised in the last eighteen months for the project through non-profit gaming nights. Other charitable organizations in Salem, including the Lions Club and Greater Salem Caregivers, have also benefited from the games at the racing track.

Kelley said that more than four hundred non-profit organizations are registered with the state to participate in fundraisers through casino games. He added that applications for charitable groups are studied by racing commission staff. All sites and gaming operators must be accredited by the state. Rockingham Park is a licensed gaming establishment. Casino games have been managed by the Granite State Poker-today.

Rockingham Park officials have established their own managing company and told Granite State Poker that it can no longer operate casino table games at the park beginning on July 26th, 2009. Granite State Poker has filed a lawsuit against the racing track, alleging that track officials violated a joint enterprise agreement. Aside from that, supporters of introducing slot machines to the Granite State point to charitable gaming-along with bingo, Lucky 7's and lottery-as evidence that gaming already exists in the state and that slot machines could thrive in New Hampshire.

A spokesperson for Millennium Gaming, Rich Killion, a gaming organization that has promised a $450 million renovation to Rockingham Park if the slot machine proposal is approved, said that charitable gaming would remain a fixture in the park if slot machines were permitted there.

Proposals to bring slot machines to the state were taken out of the state's budget plan by a joint committee after the Senate passed it. Opponents of the slots plan said that while gaming already exists in the state to a certain point, critics of slot machine say that legalizing them would be a wrong decision.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Kori Woffendin