Town Checks on Bid for More Gaming

Expanded Gambling's Effect on Beach Worries Some

By Patrick Cronin

Seacoast Sunday, Sunday, April 1, 2012

[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
Jim Connors of Hampton watches the roulette wheel at Ocean Gaming on Hampton Beach.
[Chris Shipley photo]

The owner of Ocean Gaming at Hampton Beach said he is puzzled why voters rejected a warrant article at the March 13 election that would have allowed the games of Bingo and Lucky 7 to be played in town.

"Who doesn't like bingo?" said Peter Anzalone, who operates the charitable gaming operation Ocean Gaming at 81 Ocean Blvd., along with his brother John.

Charitable gaming is New Hampshire's legalized version of gambling. There is a $4 bet limit per game and 35 percent of the proceeds must go to charity.

Some local residents said they voted against the article because they do not support gambling in general, even if a portion of the proceeds goes to charity.

Because residents didn't have an opportunity to vote on whether to allow the gaming business in town, some said they used the opportunity to send a message.

Selectman Mike Pierce has a similar view.

"Gambling brings interesting people with it," he said, "and we don't need interesting people when we are trying to attract families to the beach."

Anzalone had hoped to add to the gaming offerings at his establishment, which already includes blackjack, roulette and mini baccarat.

Bingo and Lucky 7 are regulated by the N.H. Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. But the games can only be played in cities and towns that adopt state statute RSA 287 E, which regulates both games, according to Town Manager Fred Welch.

According to the N.H. Gaming Commission, there are 11 commercial bingo halls and 80 organizations licensed to host bingo games in the state.

Anzalone believes misinformation was the reason the article failed. The infamous "yellow sheet voting guide" mailed to Hampton voters before each election said a "yes" vote would be a vote to expand gambling in town.

Voters rejected the warrant article by a vote 1,532 to 1,500 on March 13. Last week, Hampton conducted a recount at Anzalone's request, and the result did not change.

"Expanded gambling was the furthest thing from the truth," he said. "This doesn't just hurt us, but it hurts many churches and schools. A positive vote for this wouldn't have just allowed us to have it in our facility, but any church licensed can run their own bingo games for charity."

Anzalone said Ocean Gaming wanted to add bingo to increase foot traffic for the year-round business. Taking over the second floor of the building that formerly housed Dylan's Restaurant last year, Ocean Gaming was billed as the premier destination for charitable gaming and "Hampton Beach's only Adult Playland," but surviving the winter was a challenge.

Anzalone said Ocean Gaming's focus was initially on poker tournaments, but his business found it couldn't compete with other poker rooms in the area, including those in Hampton Falls and Seabrook.

While bingo wouldn't be a huge money maker, Anzalone said, it would bring people into the business, which also has a restaurant.

Anzalone said offering bingo would also serve a local demand. Several retirement communities on the Seacoast expressed interest in making trips to Ocean Gaming if bingo were offered, he said.

Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols said he wasn't surprised by the result of the vote.

"I'm not against gambling, but I didn't understand the impact of the whole thing," Nichols said. "What would it mean to Hampton? Does that mean taxpayers would have to spend more on public safety because you have more of that going on?"

Nichols said he hasn't heard any negative comments about Ocean Gaming, but is waiting to see how it plays out before making a judgment.

"I don't think enough time has gone by to understand the impact of what we already have begun," he said. "I would just as soon not expand it until we have more time under our belt."

Rusty Bridle, a retired Hampton fire captain and former state representative, said he was surprised the town's voters rejected bingo and Lucky 7.

"It kind of baffled me," said Bridle, who voted in favor of the article. "(Ocean Gaming) supports nonprofits in the area. It helps the nonprofits do what they are able to do."

Anzalone said Ocean Gaming is not giving up. His business plans to submit another warrant article next year to allow bingo and Lucky 7 in Hampton.

Not only will it help Ocean Gaming, he said, it will also help charities.

Ryan Sheehin, left, and Jim Connors of Hampton contemplate their bets at Ocean Gaming in Hampton Beach.
[Chris Shipley photo]
Janine and Mike Mitchell of Greenfield, Mass., play blackjack at Ocean Gaming in Hampton Beach.
[Chris Shipley photo]
Blackjack, roulette, craps and poker can be played at Ocean Gaming in Hampton Beach.
[Chris Shipley photo]