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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gaming regulation done on the cheap

Telegraph Editorial

There seems to be a push in Concord to make the state Lottery Commission the agency of choice to regulate a New Hampshire casino if one gets up and running.

The Gambling Regulatory Oversight Authority, which is exploring what a casino regulatory structure ought to look like, heard that sentiment repeatedly last week. ...

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There seems to be a push in Concord to make the state Lottery Commission the agency of choice to regulate a New Hampshire casino if one gets up and running.

The Gambling Regulatory Oversight Authority, which is exploring what a casino regulatory structure ought to look like, heard that sentiment repeatedly last week.

“Would you not want a regulatory authority to regulate all activities involved in gambling?” asked Kathy Sullivan, the former head of the state Democratic Party. “The lottery commission’s job is to sell and encourage gaming, and that is what private entities are doing that run a casino. Would you not have one regulatory authority over all agencies?”

“We are trying to use an existing framework,” added Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, of Manchester, the legislature’s biggest casino proponent.

The primary arguments for using the Lottery Commission to regulate casinos, then, seem to be twofold: That it already exists, and it already promotes and regulates games of chance.

In other words, rather than create a separate entity dedicated to casino regulation, the state can do it on the cheap if it uses the Lottery Commission.

We can see the logic, just not the wisdom, of empowering an entity that’s supposed to promote gaming to also be the agency that regulates it. Nothing against the people at the Lottery Commission, but aside from having that quaint fox-guarding-the-henhouse feel to it, there doesn’t seem to be much to recommend it.

Rep. David Huot, D-Laconia, presided over a working group in the House last spring that also explored the proper regulatory structure for a casino.

“Who should be in charge was the elephant in the room of this whole process,” Huot, a retired district court judge, told the authority last week. “There were very strong opinions involved.”

We bet.

If lawmakers are determined to sell the state’s soul to out-of-state casino interests in lieu of more reliable revenue sources, the least they could do is craft a regulatory structure that has a firewall between the promotional and enforcement functions.

Because taxpayers are entitled to something better than a discredited State Liquor Commission model where the administration, promotion and enforcement arms become intertwined like so many snakes in the bottom of a burlap bag.

Residents could feel better about casinos if they were overseen by an agency that had no stake in gaming promotion. A department, perhaps, that has some familiarity with law enforcement. And it would be best if it were an existing entity.

Well, it just so happens that there exists such an agency right next door to the Statehouse. And – wouldn’t you know it – it has a few lawyers on staff.

It’s called the attorney general’s office, and we think it would be the perfect choice to oversee casino gambling. The office has no connection to the gaming industry. In fact, AGs going back to Warren Rudman have opposed casino gambling. What better place to put an enforcement entity if you want to remove any doubt about the legitimacy of casino operations.

If lawmakers are, in fact, hell-bent on bringing casino gambling to the state, they could do much worse than to establish a new branch under the attorney general to regulate it.

But they should make sure it is very well-funded.

Because, with millions upon millions of dollars at stake over the long term, this is not the kind of thing that should be done on the cheap.