The state is back, though, with a strong online gaming bill introduced in January 2023. It’s a bipartisan bill starting off in the Senate, and it already survived its first committee hearing. It remains in that committee, though, for the time being.
When lawmakers in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey began talking about state-regulated igaming in 2012 and 2013, New Hampshire was right there with them. With neighboring Massachusetts taking New Hampshire gamblers to their casinos, Governor Maggie Hassan wanted to do something about it.
Hassan initiated studies about gambling in general, which resulted in a 2015 bill to legalize land-based casinos. That failed by a sizeable margin in the House of Representatives.
Two years later, three Republican State Representatives put forward H562, a bill to decriminalize online gambling and officially legalize online poker and online casino games. A hearing led to silence on the mater for most of the year until October, when it became a part of a special session. They even got it to a vote, but lawmakers voted it down 23-to-0, explaining that igaming was “inexpedient to legislate.”
NH Lottery Commission Stands Up
At the very least, New Hampshire saw the opportunity to take its lottery games online. It would expand the reach and revenue of lottery ticket sales in the state. In addition, they had been and wanted to keep considering a larger igaming industry.
But when the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration overturned the 2011 Wire Act precedent, New Hampshire was one of many states that responded to the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel with questions. The new memo indicated a restoration of the Wire Act as written decades before, which could remove the rights of states to offer any type of online gambling activities. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission decided that it would be the one to sue the Department of Justice, along with the US Attorney General.
New Hampshire Lottery won its case in the US District Court and then in the US Court of Appeals. Years of legal wranglings finally resulted in a new Department of Justice in 2020, and under new AG Merrick Garland with the Biden Administration, the Office of Legal Counsel stopped the appeals process and let the NHLC victory stand.
The NHLC won for every state with an interest in online lotteries and any type of igaming.
New Hampshire lawmakers made no significant effort to legalize igaming in the last several years. That changed in January 2023.
A bipartisan group of State Senators (and one Representative) introduced SB104 on January 5 “to regulate online gambling and direct net proceeds to a community college scholarship fund.” The sponsors of the bill are listed as:
-Senator Timothy Lang (Republican)
-Senator David Watters (Democrat)
-Senator William Gannon (Republican)
-Senator Lou D’Allesandro (Democrat)
-Senator Kevin Avard (Republican)
-Senator Howard Pearl (Republican)
-Representative Roderick Ladd (Republican)
The bill started in the Ways and Means Committee, which held its first hearing on the matter on January 25.
It was no coincidence that Senator Lang was at the hearing, as he is a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. His testimony in support of the bill expanded on the purpose of the legislation:
-Bill will include poker and casino games currently allowed under charitable gaming laws.
-NH Lottery Commission will regulate igaming.
-Revenue will create a two-year scholarship fund to eventually provide free in-state tuition for financially eligible students.
-More community college students will help fill gaps in the workforce.
-Revenue is estimated to be $17M annually.
Fellow bill sponsor Watters also clarified a few things:
-New Hampshire should be competitive with neighboring states that have reduced or removed the cost of community college education.
-Low-income students will receive the first scholarships.
-Watters other bill (SB153) to support community colleges may be combined with SB104.
Rebecca London spoke on behalf of DraftKings, emphasizing the safety of online gambling and the benefits it has already delivered to other states. For example, she mentioned the $36M that Connecticut collected in igaming taxes in 2022.
Dr. Mark Rubenstein represented the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) and spoke in support of the proposed legislation.
Peter Bragdon of Churchill Downs represented the sole opposition to the bill in the hearing. His relevance stemmed from the company’s ownership of a racetrack (with a poker room) in Salem, New Hampshire.
Bragdon focused his opposition on the cannibalization issue. He expressed concern that igaming will negatively impact land-based gaming operations. In reality, however, this concern has been put to rest in numerous other states and by quite a few studies that show that online gaming helps land-based gambling properties. Cross-promotions and an expanded customer base works in the favor of the state’s entire gambling industry.
His suggestion was to request a study.
There was no vote on SB104 at the end of that hearing. There may be an effort to draft more sponsors for the bill, as well as to address some of the concerns with data.
Expect another hearing in the next month, one that will hopefully see a vote to move the bill forward.