The electronic gambling game Keno is now legal in New Hampshire, but that doesn’t mean cities and towns have to allow it. Towns will debate that in March. Right now, cities are considering whether to put Keno on the ballot for their November elections.
This is where Charlie McIntyre comes in.
He’s the head of the state lottery commission and ever since the law passed last month – he’s been making his pitch to local officials on why they should support Keno.
Under the new law, communities are guaranteed money for full-day kindergarten regardless of whether or not they adopt Keno. But the state is depending on widespread adoption of the game to help pay for the program.
On a recent Tuesday, McIntyre was in Nashua, meeting with aldermen. Sitting among them in the city’s chambers, McIntyre brought up a few more positives about Keno - more business in local bars and restaurants and more gambling money kept in New Hampshire.
Alderman Ken Siegel was the first to express concern.
“A lot of the smaller municipalities might look at Nashua and say 'oh Nashua will adopt this – they’re a big town so we will ride on their coattails without having the baggage of having to OK Keno',” said Alderman Siegel.
“Certainly I’m considered an expert on gaming in many respects so I don’t consider Keno a good, bad question," McIntyre replied. "If I put Keno up in this room I guarantee you half of you wouldn’t even notice it was in the room. And I guarantee you also that things happen in a bar far worse than numbers on a television monitor in the corner."
McIntyre is no newcomer to Keno. In fact, in his previous job, he was tasked with expanding the game in Massachusetts, which now has the largest Keno operation in the country.
For McIntyre, convincing Nashua and Manchester is crucial – they’re the state’s largest cities and areas thought to have the biggest appetite for the games.
He’s met personally with the mayor of Manchester. And last week, the city agreed to put Keno on the ballot. Franklin, Concord and Berlin have done so as well.
The lottery commissioner has been doing a lot of selling lately. But when I asked if he’s starting to feel like a lobbyist – he was a little lost for words.
“Do I feel like a keno lobbyist?" McIntyre said, laughing. "I don’t know. I guess I enjoy what I do so it may come across sometimes that I’m a positive on it, only because I come across in a positive light,” he said.
House Finance Chair Neal Kurk says McIntyre is just doing his job.
“He has a responsibility because the legislature intended that this game be implemented, and to the extent that it was successful, additional revenue would go back to cities and towns," Kurk said. "I think he’s doing just what he ought to do.”
The Commissioner’s style fits the part - he's 6’4, broad shouldered, gives a firm handshake and always sports a dapper suit.
On the walls in his office hang memorabilia from the Iron Man competitions he’s finished, including the World Championship in Hawaii.
McIntyre was appointed to the lottery commission by Democratic Governor John Lynch in 2010.
Since he’s been in New Hampshire, the state lottery has been making more money. Last year it brought in $75 million more than the year he took over.
“Governor Lynch made it very clear to me - that he wanted to grow revenue," he said. "He saw a business that wasn’t performing to peak and he wanted it to perform to peak.”
McIntyre meets with lawmakers often – pitching new ways the state can make more money. Ideas like the “mobile lottery,” buying scratch tickets right off your phone, and legalizing fantasy sports. Both were passed by the legislature this year.
Senator Lou D’Allesandro sits on the Ways and Means Committee. He says McIntyre is persuasive when he comes before lawmakers. But he stresses that’s what any good commissioner should do.
“His product gets stale – you got to keep introducing new items in order to keep that thing at a level that produces the revenue that you want," D'Allesandro said. "And Charlie knows that and he’s good at what he does. No one can say anything to the contrary.”
McIntyre will have his hands full this year. He’s in charge of regulating fantasy football, implementing the mobile lottery before the New Year, and getting cities and then towns to pass Keno.
But being a former Iron Man competitor – he says he welcomes the challenge.
“Training on a Saturday or Sunday I’d leave the house and go for a five hour bike ride and then put the bike in the garage – stretch a little bit and then go for a 6 mile/7 mile run – that was a standard Saturday. And then Sunday, you want to take it easy, you’d only swim for two hours and then run for about 18 miles. If you can do that – you can do anything,” he said.
If McIntyre is able to win widespread approval of Keno this fall, the games could be up and running in bars and restaurants as early as December.