Full House in Nashua
By Scott Shurtleff
The best bet for indoor entertainment this winter may be just across the border, no visa required.
Nashua is home to two of New Hampshire’s 12, privately owned, low-stakes casinos. Although both spots in Nashua -- The River Casino & Sports Bar and Boston Billiard Club Casino -- offer a similar variety of Vegas-style gaming, each has its own unique selection of ancillary activities.
The River preceded the BBC by a few months in 2016 and, buoyed by award-winning cuisine and more than 50 television screens, draws more than a thousand visitors per week to its blackjack and poker spots, roulette wheels and craps pits.
President and General Manager, James Rafferty hosts a Sunday morning radio show out of the building at 53 High St., and also offers free-to-play football betting cards with generous payouts.
“It is not sports betting if it costs nothing to enter,” he said. “The combination of gaming and sports bar is great.”
The River also features Keno and other state lottery games, along with a regular Friday night “rubber chicken toss” that is free to enter and could earn contestants a free chicken dinner if their fowl lands in the pot some 20 feet away.
Although both establishments have benefited greatly in terms of traffic from the state’s June 2018 policy change on maximum wagers, from $4 per bet to $10, neither garners much more in terms of net profit.
“Thirty-five percent of our gross profits are mandated by the state lottery commission to go to directly to local charities,” Rafferty said.
The BBC is held to the same charitable standards established by the New Hampshire Gaming Commission, which falls under the purview of the lottery commission. Under the laws, all revenue must be stringently tracked, accounted for and disbursed according to the guidelines. Each qualifying charity is only allowed 10 days worth of contributions from each source, thereby spreading the proceeds over at least 36 registered 501 (c) (3) nonprofit agencies per year. Each of the 12 Granite State casinos vet and choose their own benefactors based on applicants’ needs.
“We really like the food banks,” Rafferty said.
The two casinos have raised a combined total of more than $6 million for local charities.
If the sound of charitable giving or a roulette wheel spinning isn’t your deal, then how about the sound of pool balls clacking?
BBC, at 55 Northeastern Blvd., still has 20 regulation-size pool tables since removing 10 to accommodate the casino area. A separate poker room has 16 tables, compared to six at The River, and on weekends is astir with the shuffling of cards, flipping of chips, and calling of raises. BBC doesn’t offer blackjack but does offer the similar Spanish 21, which follows most of the basic rules of blackjack with some modifications.
If it’s a flush of clubs at The Club or a winning river at The River, there is something on hand for players of all levels. And the boom in population of low-stakes gaming benefits more than the charities, owners and fortunate winners -- the community also rakes in the dough. Employing more than 200 combined full-time workers, the two casinos ante up to the local economy. Employed dealers, waitstaff, security and kitchen help all contribute back into the commercial pot -- and that’s no bluff.
So if you don’t feel like traveling to Springfield or even farther to the Connecticut casinos, Boston Billiard Club Casino and The River Casino & Sports Bar are much closer. And at both places, blackjack (or Spanish 21) is a hit, poker is the real deal, you can roulette a spin, and craps is two die for.
The River is open every day from 10:30 a.m., and BBC welcomes players from noon until closing., usually about 1 a.m. Both offer table-side cocktails and full kitchen fare.