Nonprofits get boost from new charitable gambling businesses

TIM JEAN/Staff photo. Local nonprofit organizations lost out on many thousands of dollars of funding when Rockingham Park, pictured, closed in 2016.

 

SALEM, N.H. — When Rockingham Park racetrack closed two years ago and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry lost $50,000 in annual funding, the organization was forced to shelf plans to repair parts of the building and hire new employees.

Two years later, the children's organization is regaining lost ground. 

"Now that we're back with Chasers, we're going to be able to do all of those things (we had planned). It's been a blessing," Executive Director Art McLean said of the organization's new partnership with one of Salem's two new charitable gambling businesses.

Dozens of New Hampshire charities and nonprofits lost thousands of dollars in annual financing when Rockingham Park closed. Then last year, voters legalized charitable gambling institutions in Salem. These casinos and poker rooms are required under state law to give 35 percent of their gross profits every day to charities registered with the state. 

Two businesses — Chasers Poker Room and Cheers Poker Room and Casino — opened late last year. The companies rotate which charity receives the money each day.

Chasers Poker Room is currently working with 37 organizations, each of which is the "charity of the day" nine or 10 times per year, according to co-owner Lisa Withrow. 

"We were lightly involved with charities previously and seeing how hard they worked to raise money for their cause this endeavor has brought us great joy being able to support them in this way too," Withrow said. 

Cheers Poker Room and Casino owner Dan Dandreo declined to say how many nonprofits his company is working with, but said he has received applications from more than 100 charities across the state. 

Dandreo said it takes weeks or months to get a charity registered with the state and signed up with Cheers Poker Room. 

Depending on the day, charities can receive several hundred to several thousand dollars. 

The money the Boys and Girls Club has received so far is on par or sometimes better than what they got from Rockingham Park, according to McLean. 

With six months having passed since the two charitable gambling sites opened in Salem, not all organizations are reporting the strong rebound from the loss of Rockingham Park.

 

Salem Youth Baseball still is struggling to make up for the lost funds, according to the organization. 

The local baseball group counted on the $50,000 it received from the racetrack each year to help pay for uniforms, new bats, umpires and to light and maintain the fields at Michele Park, which the town does not oversee. 

Fundraising Director Tina Doherty said the organization has been forced to increase players' fees.

"We’ve lost significant funding from the closing of the track," she said. "We are struggling to replace that revenue."

Pelham Community Spirit had to cut back on grants normally offered throughout the community. The organization hasn't had luck partnering with any charitable gambling institutions, many of which partner with charities within a specific town or city. 

"It’s hurting us, and I’m sure it’s hurting other nonprofits, as well," Pelham Community Spirit member Charlene Takesian said. "But we got along before and we’ll get along after."

Salem Animal Rescue League reports a similar experience.

"It created a little bit of a budget hiccup for us," said Lisa Walker, president of the Board of Directors. "We just kind of tightened up where we could and identified which things we could defer to a later date. We took it on a month-by-month basis."