Sports betting in New Hampshire inches closer to legalization

  • A gambler looks over a race and sports book sheet for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Thursday at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J. The New Hampshire House on Tuesday passed legislation which would give the state’ lottery commission authority to regulate the sports gambling industry in New Hampshire. AP

  • Mike Heusser, of Middletown, Conn., checks off bets he planned to make on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Thursday in Atlantic City, N.J.

  • Gamblers line up to place bets on the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J. on Thursday. AP photos

Monitor staff
Published: 3/24/2019 5:45:24 PM

While many across the nation filled out their brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last week, lawmakers in the New Hampshire House took another step toward legalizing sports betting in the Granite State.

The bill, which would give the state’s lottery commission authority to regulate the sports gambling industry in New Hampshire, passed the House with strong support, 269-82, last Tuesday and now heads to the Senate.

If the bill clears the chamber, it will then be up to Gov. Chris Sununu to sign the legislation, a likely scenario as the governor voiced support for regulated sports gambling during his budget address in February.

By regulating sports gambling, supporters say it will funnel more money into the state education system and provide consumer protection that doesn’t exist in the illegal sports betting market.

But opponents argue that legalization will increase the likelihood of more Granite Staters becoming addicted to gambling and add to the workload faced by mental health workers.

A day after the House held its vote, lottery leaders from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as legal experts, legislators and industry stakeholders, gathered at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord to tackle the questions surrounding this topic.

Charlie McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, said a regulated sports betting market will better protect participants while supporting resources to assist problem gamblers.

“We want to make sure everyone gets paid,” he said at the UNH Law forum Wednesday. “You know where our office is. You can come to us if you have a complaint. The illegal market doesn’t have that level of consumer protection.”

The bill, House Bill 480, earmarks 10 percent of revenue for services to support treatment and prevention of gambling addiction in the state. Other revenue would be put toward the state’s education system.

Daniel Wallach, an attorney whose law firm focuses on sports wagering and gaming law, called New Hampshire’s legislation a “pace-setter” in addressing the public health concerns around gambling.

“Not that many other states mandate a percentage of tax revenues to go to help problem gamblers,” he said. “There are all sorts of programs that cost money that are assisted through this mandate. There are no compulsive-gambling safeguards in the black market or with offshore sites.”

The legislation includes an estimation of revenue between $1.5 million and $7.5 million in fiscal year 2021 that would then go into the state’s education trust. The bill’s sponsors estimate by 2023 revenue could be as high as $13.5 million going into the education trust.

The lottery commission has long touted itself as a key financial supporter of the state’s education system. All lottery profits are put toward the education system, and regulated sports gambling would add to that revenue, McIntyre said, telling the audience that the lottery “has been an important source for New Hampshire education.”

But opponents are skeptical of how significant the lottery’s contribution to the education system actually is. Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky told Seacoast Online that the revenue is not as momentous as the lottery says it is.

“The lottery is a sham,” Volinsky said. “It’s not nothing, 2.5 percent, but the commercials will lead you to believe all of our education expenses are taken care of by the lottery. That is deliberately intended to deceive the public.”

If the bill clears the Senate and is signed off by Sununu, it would allow both mobile and retail gambling. Most of the revenue would be expected to come through mobile, where players can make wagers using an app on their smartphone.

The retail component would
give towns the option to approve betting lounges where people can watch games and place bets. The legislation would allow a retail sports book to be co-located with another commercial business, such as a bar or resort. The bill allows up to 10 sports betting facilities in the state.

The state currently has no casino infrastructure but last week, the New Hampshire Senate voted to allow two casinos to operate in the state. The bill passed the Senate, 13-11, and now heads to the House.

The sports betting bill would allow players to bet on professional sports events as well as college games as long as they don’t involve a New Hampshire team such as UNH or Dartmouth. Rep. Timothy Lang of Sanbornton said this detail was included in the legislation as a safeguard against point-shaving or other potential influences on the game’s outcome.

UNH Law Associate Dean Michael McCann said a benefit of making sports gambling a legal market is it will allow a more transparent dialogue around the industry’s issues to take place.

“I think the legalization of it will likely help address some of those concerns because it will come out in the open,” he said.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)




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