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Gambling in New Hampshire

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has a reputation as a sleepy, quiet state, one in which people travel to go skiing or spend a weekend at a quaint bed and breakfast. But even here, gambling has taken hold, with plenty of options available for those who want to place a bet. And adding casinos has been a hot button issue for years, with the state legislature coming tantalizingly close to allowing at least one resort to be built in the recent past.

Some Online Betting Available

Like many states, New Hampshire does offer some limited forms of online gambling – though not the types of games you might be hoping for. Lottery tickets can be purchased online, and you can also bet on horse races with approved operators. On the other hand, Internet casinos and poker rooms are not regulated, so for now, at least, the locally licensed options for online gaming are limited.

However, that hasn’t stopped New Hampshire residents from taking part in online slots, blackjack, roulette, and other games. Because there are no laws that have made it illegal for individuals to play real money Internet games, many overseas operators still allow players from the state to sign up and place bets. For the owners of these sites, New Hampshire is a grey market with no regulatory framework; while not everyone is willing to offer their products here, some do, and there are no consequences for players who choose to join up with those sites.

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Small Scale Gaming Commonplace

Modern legalized gambling in New Hampshire began in 1933, when parimutuel wagering on dog and horse racing first became legalized. For three decades, this was the only legal form of betting in the Granite State.

The first major change came in 1964, when the government established a lottery. Today, lotteries exist in almost every state in the union, but at the time this was a novel idea: New Hampshire was actually the very first to establish a modern lottery, though it was quickly followed by neighboring states and others across the country. Today, the lottery offers regular drawings, and participates in many of the nationwide contests that create nine-figure prize pools, including Mega Millions and Powerball.

The next round of gambling expansion came in 1977, when the state began to allow some level of charitable gambling operations. This was the first time some casino-like games were allowed here, albeit under some strict limits regarding bet sizes and the length of time a single charity could sponsor an event for.

Over time, those laws were loosened, and by 2006, it had become legal for private operators to run the games on behalf of charities – a change that led to venues essentially turning themselves into small casinos, offering games virtually every night (with different charities benefiting in order to stay within the law). Worried about the lack of oversight for these enterprises, the legislature passed a bill in 2014 to take a closer look at these operations and ensure they were staying within the bounds of the law.

But even while fighting to contain these small-scale gambling halls, many legislators had visions of something grander. Over the past few years, lawmakers have repeatedly proposed bringing full-scale casino resorts to New Hampshire, with various bills falling short in the State House even as some have passed through the Senate.

Perhaps the best chance for passage came in early 2015, when supporters of a two-casino bill thought they had finally gathered enough support to gain a critical win for their cause. After passing in the Senate, the House then took up the question, and there were rumors flying that gaming expansion supporters had potentially turned enough legislators who were on the fence to make it a very close vote. In the end, though, the anti-casino forces won by a 208-156 margin, pushing the question off for yet another year.

Future Promises More Battles

If you thought New Hampshire’s debate over bringing in casino resorts was over, think again. This is a fight that is likely to go on for at least the next few years, until supporters either find a way to break through the resistance with a compromise bill, or it becomes entirely clear that they will never win. Bills have already been filed for consideration in the 2016-2017 legislative session, with the most promising one seeming to be an effort to bring just one establishment into the state.

The debate is essentially one over the character of the state. Many people who oppose building a resort aren’t denying that gambling expansion would bring in significant revenue – revenue that is currently flowing over the border to places like Maine, New York, and Rhode Island. But they argue that the added money might not be worth losing what makes New Hampshire a unique vacation and tourism destination at the moment. Would families still take their skiing and sightseeing trips here if there was a massive casino or two? It’s a question that will continue to spark debate over the coming years.

There’s also the potential for more limited expansion. For instance, it is likely that the State House will vote on a bill to allow keno throughout the state in early 2016. At the same time, it appears unlikely that the subject of Internet gaming will come up anytime soon, with no bills of note being proposed or considered.

That doesn’t mean that there will never be regulation of online gambling sites in New Hampshire. The state has hardly been a bastion of opposition to the idea; there have been a few politicians to share opinions on both sides of the argument, and the executive director of the state lottery has come out strongly against a federal ban of online betting, such as the one proposed by Sheldon Adelson.

Still, with no concrete movement to push for online casinos in New Hampshire, it will be some time before regulation comes up in a serious way. The state could definitely join in after a few others find success with Internet wagering (as New Jersey has done), but for now, they’re likely to stick with the limited version they currently offer their residents.

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