A breakthrough in New Hampshire could have the Granite State next to legalize online casino.
New Hampshire Sen. Tim Lang told attendees at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Denver last week that the charitable casino operators who defeated the bill earlier this year have already changed their tune.
“I have been contacted by operators and they’re now saying we want you to file a bill in ’24 and we’ll work with you on getting it passed,” Lang said.
Cannibalization concerns fell NH bill in 2023
In 2019, he faced little opposition in getting online sports betting passed in New Hampshire.
The online casino bill faced a bumpier path. It needed a revote to get through the Senate by the slimmest of margins.
Brick-and-mortar casino gaming in New Hampshire takes place through 15 casinos with a unique requirement. Authorized in 2006, the casinos must donate 35% of gross gaming revenue to charities and 10% to the New Hampshire Lottery, which puts revenue toward public education.
In 2021, the state authorized the casinos to offer slot-like historical horse racing machines.
Lang made several changes to try to appease the charitable gaming operators. He prohibited online wagering that would play like slot machines, limiting online play to table games.
He also offered to raise betting limits at charitable casinos to address concerns about no limits in online wagers. And he proposed that iGaming apps display the closest brick-and-mortar charitable casino.
Rick Newman, representing New Hampshire Charitable Gaming Operators Association, still testified against online casino at a House hearing.
The House committee then killed the bill, with the motioning representative citing “testimony we heard that it will impact our charities.”
“The operators had a kneejerk reaction on cannibalization,” Lang said. “So I was hit hard and heavy on the cannibalization argument. The operators were petrified that they were going to lose market share. And whatever data we showed them, they were highly opposed to it and hammered our House members.”
Senator will craft new bill this summer
Lang told PlayUSA that Newman recently came to him saying the association will support online casino legislation in 2024 with some additional caveats.
“So in ’24, I expect New Hampshire will bring it forward again and I feel really positive of the outcome. I’m chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate. It will be coming to my committee, so I know it will pass again there. And we’ll work on the House. I think we will see an iGaming bill pass in New Hampshire in ’24.”
Lang said he would work with charitable gaming operators over the summer to craft the language for the 2024 New Hampshire online casino bill. He said he would pre-file the bill in September.
A unique procedural element in the New Hampshire legislature could present a hurdle. All bills introduced in 2024 must differ substantially from those introduced this year.
Changes asked for by the charitable casinos may or may not be considered substantially different. The House Speaker makes that determination.
What NH charitable casinos want in online casino bill
Newman confirmed with PlayUSA that he had had talks with Lang about crafting an online casino bill charitable casinos can support.
“We’ve had very, very preliminary conversations with Sen. Lang and other legislators as well,” Newman said. “We don’t have a specific model. The session just ended and we’re taking a breath here. But I think those discussions will take place over the next several months, absolutely.”
While he wasn’t ready to discuss charitable casino asks, Newman said it would center around direct participation in iGaming.
“If online gaming is going to come to New Hampshire, the charitable gaming operators want to have it under the umbrella of the current gaming in New Hampshire. Doing it that way may have the support of legislators who do not support the idea of having a DraftKings-type company come in and bring online gaming.”
DraftKings operates online sports betting in New Hampshire under the New Hampshire Lottery.
Newman hinted about possible changes in talking about aspects the charitable gaming operators didn’t like about this year’s bill. Those included no wagering limit for online, no charitable component and that it was a contractual relationship chosen by the NH Lottery.
Newman said he wasn’t sure if those changes would qualify as making it a substantially different bill.
“That’s a hurdle anybody wanting to go forward would have to figure out,” Newman said. “I don’t think it’s an absolute hurdle but certainly it’s not going to be an easy lift. And it may be that we have to wait until 2025.”