Concord Casino's rent fees cut charitable donations in half


Monitor staff

Published: 09-19-2023 7:13 PM

At first, partnering with Concord Casino to receive payments from the proceeds of charitable gambling made sense to Patrice Rasche and the members of the Friends of Merrimack River Greenway Trail.

The nonprofit needed money to support its ongoing trail-building projects through the city, close to where Concord Casino was located. Moreover, the casino’s operator, Andy Sanborn, was actively pursuing ambitious expansion plans, including the establishment of another larger casino within the city.

“We’ll get started with them and then as they grow, perhaps the money that we can get from them will grow as well,” explained Rasche.

However, a closer look at the numbers from public records reveals that organizations that partnered with Concord Casino ended up receiving payouts that fell well below the minimum percentage mandated by state laws.

Under the state’s charitable gaming model, casinos are mandated to allocate 35% of their revenue during game dates to the respective nonprofit.

In January 2023, the Friends of Merrimack River Greenway Trail was in line to receive the proceeds from a 10-day operating period at Concord Casino. During that stretch, Concord Casino made a total revenue of $35,991. A 35% payout specified by gaming regulations would have equaled $12,596. However, Sanborn charged half that amount in the form of rent, keeping $6,275 for himself, ultimately leaving $6,321 for the nonprofit, according to public records from the Lottery Commission.

It’s a pattern that was repeated for every organization that received funds, including Family Promise of Greater Concord, American Legion Post 21, the Bow Community Mens Club, the Concord Lions Club and the Concord Lacrosse Boosters Club, to name a few. In each instance, Sanborn charged half of the total payout in the form of rent.

These rental charges remain within the boundaries of New Hampshire’s charitable gaming laws, but Sanborn’s casino charges one of the highest fees compared to other establishments across the state.

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Even if charities feel the practice is unfair, they still stand to take in some money as opposed to receiving nothing if they walk away.

“Apparently, it is very expensive to participate with Concord Casino,” Rasche said. “Knowing what I know now, it’s something that we’re probably going to have to look into because who knows if Concord Casino is even going to be around next year.”

State officials have deemed Sanborn unfit to operate a casino in the state and plan to revoke his license to operate any gambling establishment after an investigation found he used COVID relief funds for lavish personal expenses. That investigation made no mention of his ongoing practice of siphoning off donations intended for charities in the form of rental payments.

Fees adding up

Casinos with a larger number of table games, such as The Brook, a sprawling 90,000-square-foot casino in Seabrook, impose lower rental fees than Concord Casino.

However, the Lottery Commission does not set a consistent rental fee structure across all these establishments.

Rental fees for charities at The Brook are set at $375 per day, while The River and Casino Bar in Nashua charges $600, and The Moose Casino and Tavern in Nashua charges $375. Wonder Casino in Keene charged charities between $375 and $750 per day.

Keeping portions of the proceeds as rent adds up. Concord Casino takes in annual revenues of about $1 million, according to a Concord Monitor analysis of the growth of the state’s gambling industry. During the first half of this year, Sanborn kept about $80,000 that otherwise would have gone to charities had he paid out the full 35%.

In response to the substantial rental charges imposed on nonprofits by the state’s 14 casinos, Representative Michael Cahill, a Newmarket Democrat, pledged to champion a bill aimed at repealing the provision permitting gaming establishments to levy these fees on charitable organizations.

“The charities were the pretext that allowed the casino legislation to pass,” said Rep. Cahill. “The operators’ expenses are not increased by the presence of charities. Some customers are there because of their support for a particular organization.”

Despite state regulations stipulating that charity-casino rental agreements should be fixed charges to cover the casino’s overhead costs for game hosting, Concord Casino adjusts its rental rates as percentages based on the revenue generated during game dates.

For example, the Concord Lacrosse Boosters have a rental agreement for $750 per game day. However, during a 10-day period this year, the organization was charged a rental rate of $219 per game day because the casino’s revenue fell short of what the non-profit would have ultimately paid in rent.

During that 10-day period, Concord Casino took in $4,385. The Lacrosse Booster Club paid $2,190 to Sanborn as rent and cleared $2,195 in donations.

If the Concord Lacrosse Boosters had been billed the agreed-upon amount of $750 per day, they would have ended up owing Sanborn more than $3,000.

Nonprofits are willing to participate in the charitable gaming business model, despite its flaws, because the funds they receive through this channel are additional resources they wouldn’t have obtained otherwise, even if the amounts aren’t always substantial.

Many nonprofits also reported facing waiting lists at other casinos, with Concord Casino being the sole establishment willing to accommodate them.

“Six thousand dollars in the greater scheme of things is not a lot, but it’s still something,” said Rasche. “We really didn’t have any expectations.”

Over the years, the Concord Casino has reported revenue of $1.1 million in 2021, $985,302 in 2022, and $537,026 in the first half of 2023, according to public records.

Sanborn’s financial record

While Andy Sanborn awaits a public hearing with the New Hampshire Lottery Commission to defend his casino’s license and operating privileges following a joint investigation by the Lottery Commission and the Attorney General’s Office, which found him unfit for charitable gaming due to fraudulent use of COVID-19 relief funds, his business history reveals another instance when he withheld money owed to others.

In 2004, Sanborn filed for bankruptcy for his bicycle shop, Banagan’s Cycling Company, which had branches in Concord, Keene, and Lebanon. This move left numerous dealers without the money they were due.

Court documents list his wife, Laurie Sanborn, and several limited liability companies owned by Andy Sanborn as creditors. However, when the case was finally settled in 2009, with more than $700,000 in claims from suppliers and dealers, only $113,599 had been distributed after the liquidation of assets.

As a result, many of these businesses received a fraction of what they were owed.

For instance, the Burton snowboard manufacturer received $12,647, or only 5.3% of their $234,926 claim, court records show.

Payments of $2,500 each were made to Sanborn’s companies, The Best Revenge LLC and The Living LLC. The Best Revenge LLC, established in December 1997, shares the same address as the Concord Casino and Draft Bar and Grill.

Following their investigation, the Lottery Commission and Attorney General’s Office stated that Sanborn used COVID-19 relief funds for his own financial gain, including lavish purchases of race cars for himself and his wife, who is a state representative. He also took personal payouts disguised as rent, which equated to 27 years of property payments from the Concord Casino to the Draft, businesses both owned by Sanborn.

On top of all that, casinos were not eligible for such assistance, state authorities said.

Sanborn tried to get around that by omitting any mention of his business’s registered trade name, “Concord Casino,” on his loan application. Instead, he classified the business activity as “miscellaneous,” as revealed by both the Lottery Commission and the Attorney General’s investigation report. His filing with the New Hampshire Secretary of State reports the purpose of the business as “Owning & operating Real Estate” and “Automotive Exhaust System Repair.” The filing makes no mention of casinos or gambling.

In an email to other media outlets, Andy Sanborn said he’s innocent of all wrongdoing.

“Throughout the process, we did our due diligence to ensure compliance with all application requirements and standards,” he said in an email to NHPR. “While I strongly disagree with the commission’s statements, I welcome the examination ahead, as I have full confidence our actions were transparent and in complete accordance of the law.”