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Scratching the surface on state’s latest gambling plan

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ



Monitor staff
Saturday, March 18, 2017

In the state’s perennial search for money, lawmakers are again turning to gambling. But this year, in addition to the usual suspects like casinos and keno, House members are floating a new player – online scratch tickets.

The plan would raise an estimated $10 million a year for state coffers. And it would target millennials, an elusive demographic for lottery commissioners because the app-centric generation isn’t buying paper scratch tickets at the same rate as older residents.

The generation “doesn’t like waiting three days to find out whether they won Powerball. It doesn’t like using cash very much,” said Charles McIntyre, head of the state Lottery Commission. “If we don’t change the way we do business now, in 20 years we will become irrelevant.”

The online lottery plan is still in its infancy, but is already facing strong pushback from convenience store owners worried about losing market share.

“We would have fewer customers, less foot traffic, make less lottery sales and other related product sales would also likely suffer,” said Robert Worden, a 7-Eleven store manager in Keene, according to prepared testimony.

Plus, questions abound regarding payment and age verification. All lottery tickets must now be purchased with cash, but an online version would be linked to a person’s credit card. People can’t play the lottery in New Hampshire until they are 18 years old, so it’s not clear how the online lottery app would decipher age.

Online scratch tickets would work like a game on your smartphone or tablet. Players could log into the New Hampshire Lottery app and scroll through a list of games, choose one and virtually scratch the screen to find out whether they win a prize. Any earnings would roll over into players’ accounts. Under the proposal, the Lottery Commission would be able to set daily, weekly and monthly gambling limits for players, but those specific dollar figures aren’t yet spelled out.

It’s not clear how much traction the proposal will get in the House Finance Committee.

“I would prefer lottery to a casino,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat on the finance committee. “I am sensitive to concerns about retail operators and not having minors purchasing tickets.”

If this falls through, the Legislature has plenty of other gambling options to fall back on.

Though the state Senate has nine new members this year, the chamber reaffirmed its commitment to expanded gambling last week by voting 13-10 in favor of a two-casino bill. The House has never seen a casino bill it liked.

But the lower chamber again approved a competing measure this year to authorize keno, the electronic lottery game played in restaurants or convenience stores. Members of the House finance committee say they plan to put the keno revenue, estimated at $12 million, in their version of the state budget.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu hasn’t staked a clear position on all three gambling proposals, but would he turn down more money?

Simmer down

Senate President Chuck Morse had to play parent in the chamber last week when members took jabs at each other’s attendance records.

In a debate over job training, Concord Sen. Dan Feltes accused Sen. Andy Sanborn of missing the bill’s initial hearing. It wasn’t long before the Bedford Republican swiped back.

“If (Feltes) ever showed up to committees on time or as regularly as I did, I would be willing to have that conversation,” he said, as other seated senators shook their heads. “To make the suggestion I am missing committees, I am disappointed in that statement.”

Morse didn’t admonish anyone by name, but gave a quick pep talk.

“As I listened to the debate today, there were several items, they went beyond where we belong as a Senate,” he said. “No matter what, the 24 of us have to work together.”

We’ll see how the message holds by June.

Chopping block

House budget writers are set to take scissors to some of Sununu’s spending priorities this week, from full-day kindergarten to a new infrastructure revitalization fund.

Some Republican representatives are skeptical of Sununu’s plan to fund full-day kindergarten programs, which would allocate $9 million for needy school districts. Others are wary of his so-called infrastructure revitalization fund that would let the governor allocate some school building aid and municipal bridge grants.

“Do you think the Legislature is going to give a blank check to the governor for $58 million to spend as he chooses?” said Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith. “The Legislature’s job is to construct a budget and the governor’s job is to administer that budget.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)