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NH gambling consultant: New regs to strike balance

Rik Stevens, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- There are plenty of recent models of legislation in other states that show how New Hampshire could regulate casinos, enforce gambling laws and guard against problem gambling, according to a consultant hired to help usher the state into the casino gambling business.

Maureen Williamson, who heads the regulatory advisory practice at WhiteSand Gaming, addressed the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority for the first time Thursday and stressed that the key to effective gambling legislation is to ensure separation between licensing the casino operators and enforcing the gambling laws.

One argument against casino gambling came from lawmakers concerned the state couldn't regulate the operators or enforce gambling laws. Williamson said rules in veteran gambling states like Nevada and New Jersey as well as newer entrants such as Pennsylvania and Maryland provide templates.

"The work will be to tailor something that really works for New Hampshire," she said.

She noted the state already has a high concentration of table games such as roulette and blackjack at "charitable gaming" events, giving the state some level of expertise into how to make sure such games are run fairly. Regardless of the size of the wager, the system of regulation and enforcement is the same.

Williamson also said regulations should include ways to curb problem gambling, including check cashing or credit card limits and prohibiting "near miss" features on machines that tantalize gamblers.

New Hampshire has no personal income or general sales tax and many felt gambling could prop up funding for transportation, education and other needs. The time was right, supporters argued, because Massachusetts is licensing casinos and New Hampshire will miss out on revenue.

Rhode Island Lottery Director Gerald Aubin told the panel that looming competition from Massachusetts drove his state to expand from video lottery terminals to table games.

"We were just preparing ourselves for Massachusetts," he said. "There would have been no reason for people to come to Rhode Island."

He acknowledged the table games are more labor intensive and less profitable because more employees are needed to prevent criminal activity.

The gambling panel has until Dec. 15 to submit draft legislation.