By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – An effort to vote to open-up Hampton Beach to pedestrian traffic and swimming by June 1 was delayed Wednesday while the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force heard presentations on reopening charitable gaming tables and large indoor athletic facilities, and an update on reopening churches.
The 19-member task force is charged with providing Gov. Chris Sununu and state health officials proposed guidelines that would allow certain aspects of the economy to reopen during the pandemic. Many aspects of the state’s economy have been closed since March by COVID-19.
The task force voted on guidelines to allow modified reopenings for child care, performing arts, outdoor recreation, health clubs, and equine services on Tuesday, and are still working on other aspects of reopening.
A vote on a modified opening of Hampton Beach could come as early as Thursday. Having heard that the state is allowing for additional parks hiring to staff-up Hampton Beach for this summer, John Nyhan, president of the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the task force on Wednesday pressed the task force to pass guidelines to allow for a partial opening of the beach.
The chamber hopes Sununu will allow for opening on June 1 for phase 1 which would allow people to walk and swim on the beach and before July 4, to allow for sunbathing.
The draft guidelines presented by the chamber last Friday have been changed to add a new aspect to ensure communication with neighboring Seabrook, North Hampton and Rye, and a public announcement that traffic from the south should enter by Route 101 rather than coming through Seabrook on Route 286.
But because the vote was not noticed in the agenda, chairman D.J. Bettencourt said he wanted to put off a vote on the subject until next week when voting is planned on a number of aspects of the economy.
Nyhan asked Bettencourt to reconsider. “In due respect, if we are holding this motion until next week I believe it would be a significant disadvantage to our recommendation of opening up on or before June 1,” Nyhan said.
Bettencourt said he would discuss the idea and possibly allow for a vote provided there was 24-hour public notice.
Jim Rafferty, representing the charitable gaming industry, said before the pandemic closed them in March, there were 12 facilities operating in Belmont, Berlin, Concord, Hampton, Keene, Lebanon, Manchester, Salem, Seabrook and two in Nashua.
The industry in the state employs about 750 with 35 percent of all proceeds going to charities.
The tables made $10 million dollars in 2019, an additional $3 million in tax relief for the state, Rafferty said. The gaming industry uses board games with chips, cards, and cash for those aged 18 and older and generally have a bar and food available for those over 21.
“We have managed this relationship between 18 and 21 years old so we have to manage our door very carefully,” Rafferty said.
“We have really had a good handle on who is in the facility,” he said, noting that cameras are used.
If there was an outbreak, he said, it would help in terms of contact tracing “and I think we could do that as fast as anyone in the state.”
He said guests would be offered masks, hand sanitizers or wipes if they want to wipe off their chips.
“We intend to restrict buying-in at the table and we think that will go a long way to help us reduce touchpoints,” Rafferty said. Chips would be sanitized before they are reused, he said. Blackjack tables of eight would be limited to four.
Poker is generally designed for 10 and is the most popular and profitable for the charity when 10 are playing. Rafferty said the industry is recommending it be allowed to open with six players, with the same for craps.
Lisa Withrow of Chaser’s in Salem, a charitable gaming operation, said not only is there is an opportunity for people to get some “relief and escape” from the pandemic by offering gaming, but her operation also employs over 80 people and donates to 36 charities.
Wes Dolloff and Bill Flanagan of Cyclones Arena gave the task force a presentation on behalf of all the large athletic facilities, such as ice rinks. While this is not the busiest time of year for ice rinks, the industry would like to get back to offering hockey for youth and adult leagues. Public skating would not be allowed in a first phase opening.
They said they patrol a lot of their groups which come in and could directly communicate with them about changes due to COVID-19.
State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said within two weeks he hopes to have a document for Sununu to consider which would allow churches to reopen.
Over 100 members of the state’s faith community met virtually on Wednesday to discuss draft guidelines.
The plan, Giuda said, is for the churches to present directly to state health officials for vetting, rather than the governor’s task force, which is more focused on the economy.
“We have a draft document being circulated,” Giuda said, because of the various hierarchical structures of various faiths.
Next Monday, comments are due back with the goal of health officials reviewing it and having something for the governor to consider by the end of next week.
On Friday, the public can address the task force by phone from 1 to 3 p.m. Call in on 1-800-356-8278 or 1-857-444-0744 and use either PIN numbers 194499 or 600744.
The website for the task force, which includes proposed guidance for the governor to consider is at https://www.nheconomy.com/reopeningtaskforce