Expanded gambling talk is back.
The last serious stab at allowing slot machines in some locations in the state failed only six months ago, but now supporters of expanded gaming are once again trying to make their case. The Union Leader reported last week that expanded gaming supporters are running ads on WMUR, and the issue has popped up on the campaign trail for state races. Next door, a measure to put a casino in Oxford, Maine, is on the November ballot.
New Hampshire has seen several attempts in the last decade to dramatically expand gaming, and expansion proposals usually involve new forms of gaming, such as slot machines. A proposal failed this past spring when Gov. John Lynch said he’d veto the bill if it reached his desk. The lure isn’t so much the games themselves but the potential revenue to the state, which, supporters say, could help balance the state’s budget. Opponents point to the potential for problems — crime, addiction — as a reason to hold the line. See the arguments — supporters are at www.fixitnownh.org and opponents are at www.noslots.com
The push to expand is ongoing. The New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission released its report last spring and the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority has begun meeting as well. Many expect gambling to come up again in earnest in the new legislative session beginning in January.
But New Hampshire is already betting big.
According to a report by the New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission earlier this year, about $615 million was collected in 2008 alone from the various forms of legalized gambling in the state, including lottery, pari-mutuel wagering at race tracks and charitable gaming, which can include bingo, poker and Lucky-7 ticket sales.
Here’s a look at some of the gambling New Hampshire already indulges in. We might not be able to play the slots, but the state offers lots of ways for gamblers to dream — if not win — big.
$1 gets you a shot
The lottery brings a piece of the casino to your corner store
Last year, New Hampshire Lottery (NH Lottery) gave away $163,550,168 in prizes, and $68,351,906 went to the New Hampshire Department of Education.
The state has had the lottery since 1964 — Governor John King signed the first legal Sweepstakes bill on April 30, 1963, and in March 1964 the state’s 211 communities each voted to decide on allowing the lottery.
NH Lottery now includes more than 100 instant games and about half a dozen games in which the player picks numbers.
“It’s a form of entertainment that we offer here in New Hampshire ... an inexpensive form. You can put down a dollar and win money that may change your lifestyle forever,” said Maura McCann, marketing director for NH Lottery.
There is more to the lottery than “the lottery”
New Hampshire is currently a member of two joint lottery coalitions, the Tri-State Lotto Commission, comprising New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, and the Multi-State Lottery Association, which includes several United States lotteries. As of now, the NH Lottery Commission offers eight options for players. These include Instant Games (scratch tickets), Tri-State Pick3/Pick 4, Tri-State Megabucks, Tri-State Weekly Grand, Fast Play, NH Powerball, NH Hot Lotto, and most recently NH Mega Millions.
Players have claimed up to $1 million playing Instant Games since they were introduced in 1975 with a ticket called “Lucky X.” Since then, scratch tickets have evolved to include several different ticket types and price ranges, as well as various ways to win, according to the Commission’s 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
NH has offered the Pick 3/Pick 4 game since 1977, but the Tri-State picked it up in 1996 as well, and it is now claimed to be one of the Lottery’s most consistently played games. This game is popular because players can win twice a day, as the numbers are picked once during mid-day and once at night.
Megabucks hit the scene in 1985 as the first multi-state product to be offered by any jurisdiction in the U.S. With a matrix of 6 of 42, and a guaranteed jackpot of $500,000, players must spend a minimum of $1 to play. Winners may choose to claim their money in cash or annuity, which means they will receive their winnings in 25 annual installments.
On February 1, 2009, the Tri-State Pay Check was replaced by the Tri-State Weekly Grand. Drawn every Tuesday and Friday evening, it lets players pick four numbers from 1 to 35 and one lucky ball number from the same numbers. This gives them 10 chances to win anywhere from $2 to $5,000, or the top prize of $1,000 a week for 20 years.
The NH Hot Lotto currently includes nine U.S. Lotteries. For $1, players can buy Hot Lotto tickets that feature a two-part play. Players must first select five numbers from a matrix of 1 to 39 and then select one hot ball number from a matrix of 1 to 19. There is an option of paying an additional $1 per bet to add the “Sizzler,” which offers the chance of three times the winnings, except for the jackpot.
The NH Powerball, operated by the Multi-State Lottery Association (which includes 33 states), allows players the chance to become millionaires with a ticket costing as little as $1. Select one set of five numbers and one additional number designated as the “powerball” for each draw. The matrix is 5 of 59 for the set and 1 of 39 for the Powerball. The Power Play feature was added in 2001, giving players the chance to increase their winnings by up to five times, except for the jackpot prize, according to the state lottery’s financial report.
Newest to the scene is NH Mega Millions with Megaplier, inducted on January 31, 2010. Played in 39 states, this is a $1 big jackpot game. This game’s jackpot begins at $12 million, but if players throw in an extra dollar per game, they can increase their non-jackpot prize winnings by up to four times.
And there is Fast Play, an online component that began in 2006. Like an instant game, Fast Play is generated by the lottery terminal at the time of purchase, and players can determine instantly whether they have won or not.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, Donna Ramsey, a waitress at Belmont Hall in Manchester, goes to Bunny’s Superette in Manchester and spends $20 buying three Powerball tickets for herself and two other waitresses. Ramsey has been organizing this weekly lottery pool for more than five years.
Though they have never won more than $20, she continues to play on advice from her daughter. “She says Mom, live for today. And so I do,” Ramsey said, adding that she also organizes a pool for Red Sox/Yankees game tickets with some of her customers as well as a few Manchester firemen. “If they win I buy them breakfast. If I win they buy me a six-pack of diet Pepsi.”
“I have every seen walk of life. Literally, I have seen everything. I have seen billionaires, lawyers, plumbers,” said Charlie McIntyre, NH Lottery Commission executive director. “What a person makes has no bearing on who the player is.”
Jean Hamaker, who works at Bunny’s Superette and often sells tickets to Ramsey, agrees. She sees a variety of regulars come in to buy tickets, though sometimes who buys and what they buy depends on the current jackpot. Every time the jackpot is over 100 million, one local office group will always come in and buy $100 worth of tickets.
“If they are going to win, people want to win big,” she said.
McIntyre recalled handing a cleaning lady a $3.5 million check, which he described with one word: surreal. “It’s just such a large amount of money. Nobody is born with that level of knowledge about money.”
This isn’t Vegas
The lottery, though legal, is a form of gambling. Why then, can New Hampshire support the lottery?
According to McCann, the answer lies in its foundation. Though lotteries have been around for ages, New Hampshire was the first state to legalize it, in 1964 after State Representative Larry Pickett proposed it five times. When it was decided that all proceeds would go toward a state education fund, the government hopped on board, McCann said.
Since then, more $1.3 billion has gone to education in New Hampshire, which McIntyre states is given according to need. In 2009, the lottery’s gross revenue was $240,260,199. Of that, 68.1 percent was handed out in prizes, and 28.4 percent was given to education, according to NH Lottery’s report for 2009.
Formerly an organized crime prosecutor and assistant executive director at the Massachusetts Lottery, McIntyre took over as executive director at NH Lottery in February. Already he has big plans for the future of the Granite State lottery.
“We are going to re-tool our Instant Tickets that have latex over them,” McIntyre said, adding that he plans to add more jackpots with more prizes. “We want to make it a better experience for the people who play.”
For McIntyre, more people winning more is what its all about. Even he knows the joy of winning. As a young prosecutor in Massachusetts, McIntyre went into a coffee shop to buy two lottery tickets while on a trip with his wife. “I won $1,000 … [and with that money] we were able to upgrade hotels. There we were, doing the tap dance in the coffee shop.”
Crowds turn out, not just at churches, to win the jackpots
The cards still bear 24 spaces filled with random numbers from 1 through 75 and one free space, but gone are the days of numbered ping pong balls being rolled around in a metal cage, plucked out, their numbers read aloud one at a time until someone in the crowd yells “Bingo!”
“It’s not just a campground game anymore,” said Jan DiMarzio, general manager of the Community Bingo Center in Manchester.
The jackpot-wielding game of bingo serves as one of several legalized forms of gambling in the Granite State required to be attached to a local charity. It was legalized in 1949, and there are now 10 licensed commercial bingo halls and 104 licensed charity bingo games in New Hampshire. All game schedules must be approved by the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission and licenses filed every month for each charity with the previous month’s financial report. By law, commercial halls must hold 10 charity games a month. Charities pay rent to the centers, up to $5 per player, based on attendance. They are also required to pay a seven- percent paper fee to the state and a license fee of $25 a day.
The Community Bingo Center, open seven days a week, rents its space to the Pro America Foundation, Knights of Columbus #5260, UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Jutras Post #43 and the Marion Gerrish Community Center.
Spartan Bingo, held at the Eagle’s Wing Function Center in Nashua, supports Trinity High School athletics, Spartan Drum & Bugle Corps, Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Nashua, the Nashua Elks Lodge, Bishop Guertin High School and Blessed John XXIII Parish.
Barry Joslin, Eagle’s Wing owner, estimated that games at Spartan — which draw an average of 1,400 to 1,500 players weekly — raise at least a half million dollars annually for its charities.
Charities also profit by selling pull-tab cards during bingo games, on which buyers can win big money.
“Most charities can create their budget on this,” DiMarzio said. “For most it is their largest fundraiser.”
Paul Kelley, director of the New Hampshire Racing & Charitable Gaming Commission, said charities typically lose money in bingo but see profits in pull-tab cards, acknowledged by the state as “Lucky 7” games.
While more than $17 million was wagered in bingo and more than $63 million on Lucky 7 games in fiscal 2010, Kelley said charities collectively lost $4.5 million on bingo, but brought in $11.3 million from Lucky 7 games.
Only members of the charitable organization, or persons designated by the organization, are allowed to conduct the bingo games. All volunteers are required to wear name tags bearing the name of the charity.
“There is a list of laws that will knock your socks off — probably some you wouldn’t even understand,” DiMarzio said.
Kelley said rules and regulations imposed on the game of bingo are not set to make the process difficult, but to make sure games are fair, equitable and honorable.
“Anytime you have gambling for any cause, it’s good to have regulations,” Kelley said of the lengthy rule book attached to bingo. “The commission is charged with protecting the public and we also try to protect the integrity of the game.”
“You need rules and regulations because some of the bingo games in New Hampshire have high stakes,” he said.
To verify winning cards at the Community Bingo Center, the caller inputs the center card number into a computer, which has been programmed with all bingo cards and patterns. The computer system, the E-Max machine, is a technological advancement in the bingo world and mixes the bingo balls in a neon green-bottomed glass case with the push of a button. A ball is then released from the case via a chute; the caller reads out the number and letter on the ball and places it under a camera that projects the selected ball on a TV screen on the wall next to a scoreboard-like system bearing the already called number/letter combinations.
Some bingo players have forgone bingo daubers in favor of an another advanced bingo innovation being used at the Community Bingo Center: a hand-held bingo device that allows players to add up to 108 cards. Called numbers are automatically transmitted to the device originally designed for the elderly and the hearing- and sight-impaired, through radio frequency.
“The devices turned out to be good for everybody,” DiMarzio said. “Seniors like them because it helps them stay competitive.”
While there is a misconception that the hand-held device users load the maximum amount of cards, DiMarzio said in reality, on average most people play only 36 to 45 cards at a time.
The new devices, DiMarzio said, allow players to enter the hall’s smoking room and come back without missing a number. Device users also tend to spend their game time playing cards or reading a book until the tune of “The Gold Diggers Song (We’re in the Money)” blasts from the machine, signifying a win. It is then the player’s responsibility to call “bingo.”
Jackpot chasers get settled into the Community Bingo Center shortly after its doors open at 3:30 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. game.
“They come in, sit and chat,” DiMarzio said. “Some have a favorite seat, others a ‘lucky’ seat.”
Irene Mandeville and Alice Fowler, both of Manchester, met each other through the local bingo circuit several years ago.
“We enjoy it because of the company …. It’s like a night out,” said Mandeville, donning a “Happiness is yelling ‘bingo’!” sweatshirt.
The pair sit in their favorite seats at the Community Bingo Center three to five nights a week each wearing their lucky charms — an angel pin for Mandeville, a 45-year bingo veteran, and an elephant necklace for Fowler, who has played for 28 — charms that will likely always accompany them to the hall, as on one Sunday Fowler went home with more than $1,600 after playing two games at the center.
“We both have been very, very lucky here,” Fowler said.
Cards demand thought and discipline
Expanded gaming or not, poker is alive and well in the Granite State.
Last Friday evening at Rockingham Park’s poker room, players crowded around tables intently watching the dealer dole out cards. There were players who were dressed like they’d just stepped off a construction site. Others, donning shirts and ties, apparently swung in for some poker after a day at the office. Men, women, young, old and everything in between — poker seems to cut across demographics.
“There’s a segment of the population that’s very interested in poker and various poker games,” said Ed Callahan, manager at Rockingham Park. “This gives them the opportunity to play legally and under a regulated circumstance.”
Along with poker, the poker room at Rockingham Park offers blackjack, roulette and Boston Five, all with limited stakes. There are 13 establishments in the state licensed for games of chance. (Others include The Lodge at Belmont, Brookstone Grille in Derry, Manchester Bingo, The River Card Room in Milford and Granite State Poker at Sawyers in Plaistow.) The New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission monitors and regulates games of chance. Together with bingo and Lucky-7, poker generated about $128 million in 2008, according to a report by the New Hampshire Gaming Study Commission.
“It’s pretty interesting. You’re always meeting new people,” said Andy St. Cyr, a dealer at Rockingham Park.
Everyone is also trying to hone their game and polish up their poker face.
And like it or not, there may well be an undeniable truth out there regarding gambling: “People enjoy gambling,” Callahan said.
“It takes a lot of thought and discipline to play appropriately and to come out ahead,” he added.
St. Cyr, who is from Salem, said he lived off poker for about two years. He said sometimes losing is better than winning as it helps players regain their focus.
And it is charitable gaming, which means a chunk of the take goes to charities. At Rockingham Park, generally 80 percent of each game goes to the winners, which in a poker tournament would normally be split between the top 10 or 15 percent of players. Of the remaining 20 percent, 35 percent goes to charity, about 13 percent goes to the state and the rest goes to Rockingham. The state, in accordance with new legislation instituted last year, lops another 10 percent off the top of all gambling winnings in the state. The stakes are limited to $4 bets, though some games are less.
The poker room at Rockingham Park generated about $1.7 million for charities this past year. That’s key for charities, as Callahan said many of them have seen state or federal funding reduced in recent years. Most proposals for expanding gaming in New Hampshire have included components for expanding charitable gaming as well.
Charities can register for as many as 10 days per year at a charitable gaming facility. This year, 37 charities are participating at Rockingham, while another 140 are on a waiting list, Callahan said.
Diane Hatem, a volunteer with Play Among the Stars, said the 10 gaming events they do at Rockingham Park are the nonprofit’s most lucrative ventures. The Salem-based organization is a theater group for children with special needs. It gets all of its money from fundraising.
“It’s been great for us,” Hatem said, adding the group has participated in charitable gaming for about three years. “It’s the best money we make.”
Since September 2006, the poker room at Rockingham has generated more than $5 million for charities, with another approximately $600,000 annually from bingo, which has been going on for the last 15 years.
Callahan said charity groups are sometimes hesitant to participate in the charitable gaming because of preconceived notions, but when they come in to host an event, they see it’s just regular people.
Rockingham Park noticed a drop when the state implemented the tax on gambling winnings last year. The poker room, which probably draws in less than 10 percent of Rockingham Park’s overall business, has dropped off about 8 to 10 percent since the tax was instituted.
Poker tournaments could be a $50 buy-in Texas Hold’em where maybe 100 players take part, bringing the gross to $5,000. In that case, $4,000 is spread among the winners. A $50 buy-in tournament last Friday afternoon would have netted the winner $1,600. Rockingham Park hosts daily tournaments, sometimes four or five tournaments in a day. They also have sit ’n’ go games, which happen anytime, where players sign up and once there are 10 people, the game begins. There might be 25 sit ’n’ go games throughout the course of a weekday and more than 60 on a weekend, Callahan said.
Callahan said Rockingham Park is a good place for novices to learn how to hone their game — and with limited stakes, they can do so without losing as much money as they would going to a place like Foxwoods, where minimum bets can be as much as $25.
“They can get comfortable here,” Callahan said.
“We have good players and we also have bad players,” St. Cyr added.
Count St. Cyr among those hoping an expanded gaming bill passes. He figured people are going to gamble either way. A simple change the state could make would be to increase the limit on stakes. With greater limits, players could employ more strategy in placing bets, he said.
Win, place, show
Watching — and betting on — simulcast races
For patrons of simulcast wagering, which is watching and betting on televised thoroughbred, harness and greyhound races from around the world, winning the money is not nearly as important as winning the race.
While many casual fans may attend a live horse race because of the spectacle of the event, those who attend simulcasts are dedicated followers of the sport who spend a great deal of time researching past performances of the horses and dogs, according to Rick Newman, general manager of The Lodge at Belmont, one of the three facilities in the state, along with Seabrook Greyhound and Rockingham Park, that host simulcast wagering.
“It is much different than when people wager on the lottery,” Newman said. “There is a science to it, a handicapping. It is a craft and hobby and one many have done their entire lives.”
In racing, the odds are based on the amount of money bet on a certain dog or horse. For example, if everyone bets on Horse A to win, the odds of Horse A winning would be high, like 2 to 1. Newman said the excitement for simulcast wagerers is the competition. Perhaps through research of past performances, which are printed in race programs, a bettor believes, despite the odds, Horse C is going to win. If it does win, the bettor feels great pride and the money is a pleasant byproduct. It can, however, lead to a big payday. “With odds of 4-1, you’ll get four times your stake back if you win,” according to the Lodge at Belmont’s website, www.thelodgeatbelmont.com
. “Bet $1 and you are paid out $5. Four dollars is your winnings and $1 is your stake back.”
Bets can be made through tellers at the facility or even over the phone through a telebet card, which allows bettors to open an account and place bets from anywhere. These must be with licensed facilities, but Ed Callahan, president and general manager of Rockingham Park, said there are numerous illegal telephone betting services operating in the state, which do not earn the state any revenues. When you make a bet, you will be given a ticket, which, once the race is over, you must hold onto until the red light or signal of the official placing of the dogs or horses has been made. The minimum bet is $2 and you can bet for a horse to win (come in first), place (come in first or second) or show (come in first, second or third). All of the bets for each race track go into a common pool, which is divided out to the winners, who may be in multiple states.
“It is no different than finding a successful stock,” Newman said.
Another reason many enjoy simulcasting, according to Callahan, is that they can follow races happening all over the country. “It gives them the opportunity to follow multiple races, tracks, horses and jockeys,” Callahan said.
At The Lodge at Belmont, 60 different tracks are shown on any given day that feature greyhound races, thoroughbred races (in which the rider is mounted) and harness races (when the rider is pulled by the horse in a small cart). At Rockingham Park, the first race is televised around noon and races run until close to midnight daily. About 250,000 people visit Rockingham Park’s simulcast rooms during the year, according to Callahan, with 80 percent of those historically being from Massachusetts. Newman estimated 80,000 to 100,000 come through The Lodge, many of whom are repeat customers.
“It is also a tremendous social outing,” said Callahan on a late Wednesday morning, as groups of men had already gathered at the Rockingham Park facility, which allows bettors to watch on flat screens, small televisions, and desks that have personal televisions.
Simulcast wagering for horse racing became legal in 1991, according to Paul Kelley, director of the NH Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. Simulcast wagering on greyhound racing followed in 1992. It has been a lucrative venture, with $51,109,824 worth of bets placed in the fiscal year from July 1, 2009, to July 1, 2010, which generated $736,741 in revenue for the state. But when discussion of legalizing this practice first came to the legislature, it was met with controversy. “It did not pass on its first effort,” Kelley said. Now no one gives it a second thought, according to Newman. Kelley said he has never had a problem with simulcasting, which typically appeals to an older crowd.
“We have much younger people entering our poker room,” Callahan said. “They want more action and don’t take the time to do the research on past races.”
This sentiment was echoed by Newman, who said during the 1940s and ’50s there wasn’t such fierce competition for entertainment. In fact, a race at Rockingham Park is mentioned in the Robert Redford movie The Sting, according to Newman.
Competition is not the only thing affecting the success of simulcast racing.
In 1999, the state passed a 10-percent tax on winnings over $5,000. Callahan said this has reduced the number of Massachusetts visitors by six percent.
“If they win and have to pay 10 percent to New Hampshire and 5 percent to Massachusetts it loses some of the appeal.”
The tax has also affected call-in bettors, who tend to be from out of state, according to Newman — if they’re just dialing an 800 number, they dial a state that doesn’t have such a high tax, he said.
“We lost a lot of the big bettors,” Newman said. “Now the state only has the small-time, $2 every day bettors.”
There is also more competition. While more than $38 million has already been wagered this fiscal year, Callahan said in 1991, before Foxwoods Resort Casino and Rhode Island legalized slot machines, that number would have been $200 million. In 1991, Rockingham Park had 650 employees and licensed 3,500 horsemen, including jockeys, trainers, veterinarians and others. Last year it had 190 employees, related to simulcast wagering, and registered 1,000 horsemen.
One way to attract new simulcast wagerers is to show live racing, which could get someone attracted to the sport. But no facility in the state currently shows live racing. Greyhound racing, following objections from animal rights groups, has been forbidden and, amidst a tough budget, money was removed from the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission’s budget and so they could not regulate Rockingham Park for live racing. Callahan said it is a challenge to get a horse from Florida to come up and compete in New Hampshire anyway because along the way it would pass West Virginia, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut, all states with casinos or slot machines, which allow for larger victory purses.
For now, however, the state seems to be meeting the needs of those interested in simulcast wagering, according to Kelley.
“I think the needs are being met,” Kelley said. “I have heard no discussion of building new facilities.