New Hampshire lawmakers have refused to pass a bill that would have legalized online poker and casino gaming in the state. On April 24, 2023, the House Ways and Means Committee held an executive session where a motion to reject SB 104 was voted on. The bill aimed to make New Hampshire the seventh state with online casinos and the eighth state with legal online poker.
The panel decided on an “inexpedient to legislate” (ITL) committee report, which means the bill has been killed. According to the New Hampshire Almanac, a bill is considered dead if the House or Senate accepts the committee’s ITL report or a motion to “indefinitely postpone” is passed.
What was the Issue about?
A national survey by the American Gaming Association discovered that 48% of people claim to play online casino games, including poker. Having said this, some individuals in the Granite State are pushing for the legalization of choice to play poker online, taking advantage of the online poker trend, and planning to donate the earnings to a scholarship fund for the community college system.
Advocates argue that this would allow the state to benefit financially from those already gambling online illegally and that the scholarship fund would provide opportunities for low-income individuals to enhance their professional skills and fill crucial vacancies.
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However, some charitable organizations in the state are concerned that legalizing gambling on online poker sites and other platforms may reduce funding for brick-and-mortar charitable gaming organizations, resulting in less money being allocated to those charities.
The Senate has passed Senate Bill 104 with a narrow margin of 12-11, which aims to legalize online table games, including poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat. Currently, these games are only permissible to play at charitable gaming locations in-person.
The proposed bill would entrust the New Hampshire Lottery Commission with regulating the games on poker sites and other gambling platforms. The profits generated from administrative expenses, prizes, and payments for problem gaming would be deposited into the Community College Scholarship Fund.
This fund will provide scholarships for community college-related expenses for New Hampshire residents whose household income is equal to or less than $100,000. These scholarships could be utilized to pay community college tuition fees, purchase study materials, or help pay for the tuition fees for individuals transferring community college credits to the state’s university system.
According to Lang, the scholarship fund created by the proposed bill could aid in closing employment gaps in crucial industries, including nursing and manufacturing, in the state. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission estimates that the introduction of online casino games could generate around $25 million in the initial three years of operation, with the profits deposited into a new scholarship fund designated for community college students, covering expenses such as tuition fees and textbooks.
The current state model requires a percentage of gambling winnings from casino operators to be donated to charities, which generated an estimated $20 million in the previous fiscal year. However, detractors of the proposed legislation argue that it introduces an unnecessary threat to the state’s charitable gaming system, with many using the term “cannibalization.” Opponents say the new gaming options will negatively impact the current market.
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The Strong Opposition was Triumphant in the End
The House Ways and Means Committee has opposed the proposal for legalizing online gambling in New Hampshire, decreasing its chances of being passed. The committee voted unanimously, 20-0, to propose the rejection of Senate Bill 104, which aimed to legalize online casino games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette under the guidance of the state lottery commission, with the profits being used to fund scholarships for community college students.
Advocates of the bill regarded it as an innovative means of generating revenue to provide additional training opportunities for workers in the state. A popular sports betting and online gaming company based in Boston supported the proposal and would have been permitted to offer online games in New Hampshire if the bill had been approved.
Advocates of the state’s charitable gaming operations, which involve card and table games played in person with a portion of the proceeds going to charity, had contended that legalizing online casino gaming would harm the revenue generated by the charitable games.
Members of the Ways and Means Committee seemed to share this viewpoint. According to Representative Fred Doucette, a Republican from Salem, the bill needs significant “work.” And while he states that the bill would be considered in the future, he notes that the public should not “hastily venture” into expanding the gaming industry in the state. The committee’s unanimous recommendation will be presented for a floor vote in the full House during its next meeting in the following weeks.
Its impact on Charities and College Funds
During a previous hearing, lawmakers and stakeholders discussed the issue of cannibalization. One of the stakeholders, Rick Newman, who represents the New Hampshire Charitable Gaming Operators Association, voiced his concern about the potential impact of online gaming on charitable gaming revenue. Newman stated that charitable gaming would generate between $25 million and $28 million in the upcoming year, distributed among over 1,000 charities. He also expressed concern about the proposed bill’s lack of limits on wagers.
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Rep. Tim Lang noted that similar arguments against cannibalization were made when he sponsored the passage of New Hampshire sports betting in 2019, which has since generated over $70 million in revenue for the state.
To address concerns, Lang proposed limiting iGaming in New Hampshire to table games, as the charitable casinos primarily earn income from slot machine games. He also suggested that iGaming apps display the nearest brick-and-mortar generous casino.
One proposal made by Rep. Tim Lang was to have iGaming apps show the nearest charitable casino that has physical table games. On the other hand, Rebecca London, a senior government affairs manager at DraftKings, argued that implementing online gaming and sports betting has increased gross gaming revenue across all gaming sectors in New Jersey.
She also mentioned that legalizing online gaming did not harm existing markets, as the users most likely to participate in online gaming differed from those currently using legal options. Instead, they were typically individuals who were using illegal methods to gamble.
A Final Word and Looking to the Future
This year, New Hampshire discussed iGaming legislation for the first time. Unlike Connecticut, which has legal online casinos run by two Indian tribes, no other state in New England has allowed this.
Tim Lang plans to collaborate with committee members to address their concerns and resubmit the proposed online casino legislation in New Hampshire next year. The New Hampshire online gambling bill has been controversial, reflecting the inconsistencies in various state laws.
As online gambling becomes more commonplace, those fighting for regulation continue pushing the needle forward. With increased access and transparency, states like New Hampshire can set a precedent for responsible wagering that works with local law. There is still some progress before all fifty states legalize this popular activity.
Still, progress is unavoidable, given the recent legalization of sports betting in various places throughout the United States. Online gambling certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, and it’s up to elected state legislators to decide how best to regulate this activity moving forward. Regardless of what happens in the short term, it’s clear that secure and regulated gaming options will be important considerations for existing and new players alike—together with government officials working together, these goals can ultimately become a reality.