To curb large-scale casinos, Concord opens zones for small gaming venues

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 07-09-2024 5:07 PM

If a charitable organization, religious center, restaurant, hotel, hospital, or any other business in Concord wants to open a casino, they can, but the casino must be smaller than the main building of the primary business.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, a zoning ordinance was approved to curb the development of large-scale casinos in Concord. But this regulation would not impact the existing Concord Casino or the proposed 43,000-square-foot casino off of Loudon Road.

“This does prevent a proliferation of casinos in other parts of the city and I think this is a sound measure to move forward,” said Mayor Byron Champlin, supporting the ordinance. “I think this ordinance will actually do what is desired which is to keep us from having a casino on every street corner.”

The zoning ordinance is temporary and does not have a sunset date, allowing city staff and the planning board time to develop suitable and applicable regulations for gaming and casino uses.

But, a casino opening in any of the designated zoning districts — urban commercial, civic performance, institutional, industrial, and urban transitional — would likely struggle to turn a profit. 

Unlike larger casinos that host charitable events on a rotating schedule nearly every day of the year, a gaming venue in Concord is only permitted up to 10 events or game days annually out of 365 days.

Timothy Thompson, assistant director of community development, explained that these zoning districts were selected due to their concentration of the city’s religious buildings and charitable organizations, where an accessory gaming use may be proposed alongside the primary property use.

Under this ordinance, casinos can only operate as accessory units. But the restrictions in the ordinance are not strict.

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To qualify, a casino must have a smaller footprint than the primary business to which it is attached. However, the ordinance does not specify the exact size difference required, potentially allowing a casino to be just 10 square feet smaller than the primary business building and still meet the criteria.

All operational guidelines will have to comply with state statutes for charitable gaming, requiring each casino to obtain a license from the lottery commission and follow regulations such as installing surveillance cameras and maintaining thorough bookkeeping.

Steven Winnett expressed concerns that this ordinance could lead to excessive gaming in the city and suggested setting another date to hear public feedback and address concerns.

“I’m thinking about traffic, I’m thinking about disruption. People get drunk at a gaming facility,” said Winnett. “I think that there’s more going on here that needs to be examined and more people need to weigh in on this so I have a lot of concerns.”

Councilor Stacey Brown, after listening to public comments, agreed that there was insufficient community input before making a decision that would allow any business in Concord to operate a casino.

She moved to table the ordinance for a month to give the public enough time to provide feedback. But her motion failed.

The ordinance stemmed from the city council’s direction earlier this year to address the issue of casinos and develop regulations to prevent their proliferation locally. This initiative also involves revisiting charitable gaming issues as part of updating the city’s master plan in the coming years.

Other councilors, like at-large councilor Judith Kurtz, expressed concerns that the ordinance could have unintended consequences.

“It does not achieve what was intended when we discussed this earlier and if in passing something that does not achieve the desired intent and opens the city to a legal battle I don’t feel confident,” said Kurtz.

Some Concord councilors believe this zoning ordinance will prevent the city from becoming overrun with casinos, unlike Nashua, which already has three operational casinos and another under construction by the Las Vegas-based company, ECL Entertainment.

John Cronin, a legal representative for Andy Sanborn, the owner of the two casinos in Concord, opposed the ordinance.

“I think it effectively puts a great re striction on people to have casinos,” said Cronin. “But if you go forward with it I’d ask you to consider it allowing a principal use maybe looking at other zones and putting a sunset date on it.”