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House committee takes up bill to legalize online gambling in NH

Marco Verch via Flickr

The operators and charities that benefit from the state’s brick and mortar gaming casinos are pushing back against a bill that would legalize online gambling, arguing that the proposal would cannibalize their business while harming the charities they award proceeds to.

Under a bill that cleared the New Hampshire Senate by a single vote earlier this year, private companies would offer online casino games including poker, roulette and blackjack to anyone physically located within the state who is over 17 years old, similar to the rules for sports wagering.

There would be no limits on wager sizes for online games, under the current bill. Charitable gaming facilities are currently capped at $10 per wager, though there are bills in the legislature that would increase that maximum bet.

The New Hampshire Lottery Commission forecasts online casino games could generate approximately $25 million in the first three years of operation. That money would be allocated into a newly created scholarship fund for community college students, covering tuition, fees and books.

Under the state’s current unique model, a portion of gambling proceeds from casino operators are donated to charities, generating approximately $20 million in the last fiscal year.

During a hearing Tuesday in the New Hampshire House Ways and Means Committee, the benefactors of that arrangement cautioned that they believe online gambling would eat into their proceeds.

“I’ve always viewed this as a balloon. You know, you squeeze one end, it’s gonna pop out here and get smaller at the other end,” said Jon Eriquezzo, head of Meals on Wheels of Hillsborough County.

Supporters of the bill contend that the appetite for gambling is large enough that a new online option would expand the number of people who would wager, rather than shift gaming habits away from brick and mortar facilities.

Sen. Timothy Lang, a Republican from Sanbornton, told lawmakers that online poker and other games of chance are already available through illegal websites based outside of the country. He said legalizing games in New Hampshire would boost consumer protection.

“You can’t exactly go to the Attorney General and say, ‘Hey, I was illegally playing poker out of a site in Costa Rica and I won the jackpot and they are refusing to pay me,’” said Lang, who is the bill’s prime sponsor.

He told lawmakers that the proposal would boost the state’s workforce by offering scholarships to community college students who could then fill needed roles in the local economy.

“People that are educated in New Hampshire, and do their internships in New Hampshire, are more likely to stay in New Hampshire,” said Lang.

A handful of other states, including Connecticut, already offer online casino games. In New Hampshire, adults can currently play onlinelottery games similar to scratch tickets.

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Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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