State regulators end Belmont casino's practice of awarding credit card balances to slot machine winners

BELMONT — Officials of the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission have shut down the operation of redemption slot machines at the Lakes Region Casino, claiming that in violation of the gaming laws prize winners were being awarded the equivalent of cash in the form of Visa gift cards.
Rick Newman, general manager of the venue, which offers dining, entertainment and charitable gaming, said yesterday that more than a year ago, when the redemption slot machines were introduced, the commission raised no objections when he explained the operation. "We'd been doing it for 14 months before the commission told us we couldn't do it," he said.
Redemption slot machines, found in what the law defines as "family entertainment centers," including Funspot at Weirs Beach, operate with either coins or tokens. Players may be awarded free plays or alternatively receive coupons or accumulate points with a value of not more than two-and-a-half cents apiece, which can be "redeemed" or exchanged for only for merchandise, not cash or alcoholic beverages. Newman called them "kewpie doll slots."
Newman said that the machines at the casino awarded points, each worth a penny, which players could accumulate up to a value of $25 then redeem for a Visa gift cards. He said that cards could not be exchanged for cash or used to withdraw cash from an ATM. "The cards could only be exchanged for merchandise, " he said.
Newmnan acknowledged that last year, the Legislature banned the use of "gambling machines" to play sweepstakes or games of chance, which returned money or anything that could be exchanged for money, including cash equivalents, debit cards and merchandise credit cards. However, he notes that "family entertainment centers" with "redemption slot machines" are specifically exempted from the criminal statutes bearing on the illicit use of gambling machines."
"We complied with the commission and don't expect any penalty," said Newman. "It's not a big part of our business and being shut down for a while had no real impact. We're reopening the redemption slots tomorrow."