CONWAY — Selectmen on Tuesday offered a lukewarm recommendation of a petitioned warrant article calling for sports betting in Conway and didn’t endorse another one for keno. Public hearings on both articles will be held March 15 as part of the selectmen’s regular meeting starting at 4 p.m. at Town Hall.
The articles are being proposed as part of a plan to have limited charitable gaming going in at a sports bar that would open in the shopping plaza at 234 White Mountain Highway that is home to a state liquor store at one end and a state-regulated cannabis dispensary at the other.
Bedford businessman Richard Anagnost previously told the Sun he plans to open a bar/restaurant/gaming establishment at the plaza and that it will be called Filotimo, which is Greek for hospitality.
Money from sports betting and Keno 603 — the state-sanctioned betting game — would not be going to charities, but Eddy said keno and sports betting would help drive traffic to the facility.
Tiffany Eddy, a strategic communications specialist from Concord, came to Tuesday’s meeting to speak for the sports betting petition. N.H. Lottery Executive Director Charlie McIntyre was there to address both articles.
Selectman John Colbath asked if there were any downfalls to sports betting.
“One of the best parts about sports betting is all it did was take illegal activity and make people think about prohibition,” said McIntyre, adding illegal sports betting has long been done. “The only people that was hurting was illegal bookmakers.”
The warrant article would allow a Conway establishment to offer betting on professional sports like the NFL football. The state runs its sports betting operation through a company called Draft Kings, which uses an app called Sportsbook.
Sports betting is currently allowed at only 10 establishments statewide. The number of liquor serving establishments with keno is not limited.
McIntyre explained that sports betting is allowed in Dover, Manchester, Hampton, Hampton, Seabrook and “soon to be” Nashua. The Manchester and Dover locations are listed DraftKings Sportsbook at Filotimo – Manchester and DraftKings Sportsbook at Filotimo – Dover.
“They’re done like liquor stores, geographically located to maximize revenue for the state,” said McIntyre of the sports betting outlets.
State residents may legally make sports bets online. So Conway townspeople may do sports betting online now without a municipal vote.
“It’s like a sports bar where you could actually wager on the event while you were physically there,” said McIntyre of the sports betting parlors. “And that’s the type of approval that’s being sought today.”
Eddy said that apart from Manchester and Dover, Filotimo has two other locations in Keene and New London. “They’re proud, basically, that their restaurants sports bar has a business model that allows them to raise quite a bit of money for charity,” said Eddy, adding, “In 2021, 153 charities participated at church in charitable gaming at their facilities across the state, and they received over $3 million through charitable naming at those facilities.
“The owners are now looking to open a Greek restaurant and sports bar, our charitable gaming facility here in Conway.” Eddy said, “and certainly a sports book would help drive more traffic to that facility that would in turn help those charities who are participating in charitable gaming.”
She said charitable organizations that have benefitted include a Greek church, a parent teacher organization, and charities that aid homeless and hungry children.
On Tuesday, selectmen were tasked with deciding whether to recommend the sports betting and keno articles to voters who will decide in April. The articles will go on the warrant regardless because they got at least 25 valid signatures from Conway voters.
Selectmen voted 4-1 to recommend sports betting, with Steve Porter in the minority. “This one I’m in favor of because we haven’t seen it before,” said Colbath.
Keno has been put before voters three times, most recently in 2020, when residents voted it down 894-524.
Selectmen voted 3-2 not to recommend keno, with Mary Carey Seavey and Carl Thibodeau in the minority, and Colbath, Porter and chair David Weathers in the majority.
Seavey, at the meeting and in a later phone interview explained that she voted to recommend both keno and sports betting to encourage voters to consider them but that she wasn’t necessarily supporting the articles.
Colbath offered a similar sentiment.
“I don’t have enough information right now to know whether I’m for it or against it,” said Colbath, adding, “The funny answer would be, it depends how good the Greek restaurant is.”
Thibodeau explained he feels keno and sports betting would be helpful to local business and the state.
“I think sports betting should be here, it’s a tourist area,” said Thibodeau. “It would raise a lot of revenue for the the Education Fund.”
Colbath said keno has been presented multiple times before and voters shot it down each time. so wasn’t going to support it again.
Colbath, selectmen’s representative to the budget committee, suggested that warrant articles should name the lead petitioner because budgeteers think voters ought to know. Town Manager Tom Holmes said he would look into doing that.
During public comment, municipal budget committee chairman Jim LeFebvre encouraged the board to find out if the New Hampshire municipalities that OKd sports betting had any issues with gambling addictions.