Legal Gambling in New Hampshire

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of New Hampshire

The State motto of New Hampshire is ‘Live Free Or Die’. As it turns out, some gambling games are more ‘free’ than others – with some of the most restrictive laws of any State.  There are no casinos, limited poker options and legal wagering on a live racing scene which has stopped running in this State. The silver lining in the gambling cloud is that there has been a flurry of recent legislation, all looking to move forward with oversight and licensing of casinos in this State. This article looks at the New Hampshire gambling laws in detail.

First of all, you will find a brief history of gambling in New Hampshire in quick-fire overview format. After that I have covered all the gambling games, and highlighted the current legal situation with each. Next you’ll find a more detailed section, with quotes from the statute books relating to gambling and a legal timeline of key dates. Finally you will find a summary and a look into possible future scenarios for New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Gambling Laws – A Brief History

There are two great reasons that New Hampshire is notable from a gambling history perspective. First, they were the first State to legalize a lottery in the modern format (1800’s lotteries were actually raffles) in 1963. This State also hold the accolade of managing to use the charity gambling laws to have as much fun as possible – including poker tournaments at racetracks which no longer hold live races.

Pari-mutuel betting was the first major type of gambling to be legalized back in 1933, covering greyhound and horse racing bets. This thrived for many years, though recently declined to the point where both types of racing had stopped by 2013. You can still bet at the racetracks via Simulcasts, live races coming from other States. You can also enjoy casino games and poker at these racetracks and selected other venues – these exist under charitable gambling laws and donate a proportion of their profits to good caused. Poker Tournaments run, and some blackjack games as well as many electronic gambling machines based loosely on Bingo or Keno.

With no tribal casinos or licensed State ones, the only choices for NH residents are to stick with the limited charitable options or travel to neighboring States. The mega-resorts of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are not far away in Connecticut, and next-door Massachusetts is in the process of building their own licensed casinos.

What Games Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: There are no casinos including native tribal casinos in New Hampshire. There are some very limited options under this State’s charitable gambling laws at racetracks, which even include some electronic bingo type machines. Players need to travel to neighboring States for the real thing, with the resort-casinos of Connecticut not too far away.

Online Casinos: No, there is nothing specifically mentioning online casinos in the statutes, like in many places the current definition of games of chance are considered sufficient to make online gambling illegal.

Live Poker: Yes, but only via the charity gambling rules. This does include tournaments, which are held at racetracks and bingo halls. There is no carve-out for social poker games under New Hampshire law, though nobody has ever been prosecuted for holding a penny ante home game here.

Online Poker: No, one attempt has already been made in 2014 to introduce a bill for this, it failed in committee.

Sports Betting: Yes, there is provision under State law for pari-mutuel betting on live races and greyhounds. Unfortunately, greyhound racing stopped some years ago, and live horseracing is also gone from this State. You can bet on Simulcast races from the racetracks who also offer charity gambling to keep you entertained.

Lottery Betting: Yes, New Hampshire were the first State to introduce a modern lottery, multi-State and New England games are also included.

Bingo Games: Yes, again via the charity gambling laws, bingo and raffle games for charities are allowed.

New Hampshire Gambling Laws – Timeline And Key Statutes

When compared with other State’s ‘catch all’ definitions, the definition of gambling here seems very specific. I am sure many poker fans would be happy to use the ‘Skill Game’ argument here, with Future events being another possible factor (things happen right away in poker, or at least very quickly). Here is the main definition:

"Gambling '' means to risk something of value upon a future contingent event not under one's control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that something of value will be received in the event of a certain outcome." (647-2 Gambling -)

The definition of a gambling machine could be stretched to include cards and dice, which display symbols.

“Gambling machine' ' means any device or equipment which is capable of being used to discharge money or anything that may be exchanged for money, or to display any symbol entitling a person to receive money. “

Whether there are holes in the definitions or not, the State authorities certainly have a history of defending against illegal gambling. Whether individuals are inducted on misdemeanor or Felony charges is as much to do with the amount of money involved than the specific offence.

Below is the timeline of major gambling legislation in New Hampshire:

1933: Pari-Mutuel betting on horse racing from licensed tracks is legalized. This continued until 2012 when funding stopped for the declining racing industry. It is still possible to wager on Simulcast races from the tracks, who also offer charity gambling games.

1964: Lottery begins, this is the first modern State lottery in the US and has raised a lot of money for education within the State over the years.

1971: Greyhound racing legalized, though this has now declined and stopped.

2009: Huge 10% tax added to winnings of horse racing bets, this was the last straw for the racing industry, and although it was repealed in 2011, the industry was already in terminal decline by then.

2012: Last live horse races.

2014: Several bills are submitted to the State legislature, though none make it as far as the Statutes, these include:

  • HB1633, which would have put a regulatory framework in place and allowed a 5000 slot casino.
  • HB1626 A proposal to license 6 gambling establishments and create a central oversight authority.
  • HB1628 A similar proposal to 1626 looking for 6 licenses and covering games of chance.
  • HB1630, Changes to the existing charity gambling laws, this one is still alive and due to be voted on in the senate.
  • HB1639, A bill to raise the $4 bet limit for charity poker
  • HB1127, A bill to increase the licensing fee for charity gambling venues
  • HB1556, A bill looking to define poker as a game of skill

With the exception of HB1630, all these bills were killed, with a similar fate befalling bills from the last 2013 sessions too. What this does show is that there is support for real change in the laws of New Hampshire. It just might take a little while for a deal to be worked out to get one or more of the pieces of legislation through.

New Hampshire Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

New Hampshire is not the gambling haven that the State motto might suggest. With even social games considered illegal and very limited options for residents outside of the charity events, this is as dry as any non-prohibition State gets.

Fortunately, the flurry of recent legislation indicates that there is a mood for change among the politicians – and I am sure that the construction of casinos in next door Massachusetts can only increase the pressure to get things done.

I do not expect to see regulated online gambling any time soon, though once other New England States have shown this to be a working model, then you never know.

Useful Resources:

State Code

Summary Of State Laws

Live Free Or Die Alliance (Pro Gambling Group)

Charity Bill Still Alive