After years of trying by New Hampshire’s senior state senator, the state appears on the verge of adopting a bill that would not only authorize two casinos—it would also legalize sports betting.
Although New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu and many lawmakers in the House and Senate appear to want a sports betting bill, the deadline for passing such a bill looms—without a bill being passed.
The Senate recently authorized sports betting by the hefty majority of 269-82, but the Granite State’s House, which has hundreds of members, has always had a reputation for bucking anything the Senate does.
S 310’s sponsor, the longest serving member of the Senate, Lou D’Allesandro, has championed gaming expansion for two decades. After seeing casino bills battered down every year he came up with the idea of adding sports betting, which eventually gained his bill more support. Although it was touch and go for a while.
The senator told an interviewer for Legal Sports Report, “With it being March Madness, you get more and more people thinking about sports betting and I think it carries with it its own momentum,” he said. “We put it through when we thought it could pass. Timing is everything in this life.”
Now he has until June 30 to win support for the bill in the House, which is traditionally quirkier than the upper chamber.
To signal his support, the governor has already put revenues from sports betting in his two year budget proposal.
The senator added, “I think sports betting will happen, and if it doesn’t happen now it eventually will happen,” D’Allesandro said. “I think it has become so pervasive that it can’t be denied anymore. But I’m not kidding myself. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The House bill differs from the Senate bill in that it would put it under the umbrella of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, which would then choose ten retailers and one online operator.
D’Allesandro’s bill would allow sports book at casinos and an “online sports pool operator” all under the Lottery Commission’s regulation. The Lottery wouldn’t participate itself, and its Executive Director Charles McIntyre is OK with that. He said, “Some suggest that having a competitive, open market if the two casinos are built will drive more revenue growth as they compete against each other.”
D’Allesandro warns that if the House tries to strip the casino element to pass sports betting that it won’t be seen favorably in the Senate.
As McIntyre puts it, “It took the lottery bill 10 years before it passed. The way laws work, you can have a no every year but it only takes one yes to get it approved. Senator D’Allesandro is committed to waiting for the right moment when the tumblers come into place to get the casino bill passed.”
Meanwhile looming over the process is a lawsuit where the New Hampshire Attorney General has sued the federal government over the Justice Department’s recently issued opinion that sports betting and other online gaming violates the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which was passed by the Kennedy administration to dry up a funding source for the mob.
The recent opinion by DOJ upended an opinion in 2011 by the Obama administration that essentially gave states the go ahead for online gaming. The new opinion subjects any forming of gaming that crosses state lines to the Wire Act, which set off alarms all over the country among state lotteries that are part of multistate lotteries and online poker.
New Hampshire stands to lose almost $200 million next year if the new ruling stands. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald will represent the lottery before a federal judge April 11. He expects a ruling by the end of May. Joining the state in the lawsuit is NeoPollard Interactive, which provides the state lottery with hardware and software.
McDonald told legislators, “In view of this important revenue item to the budget, we’ve made clear to the court that we respectfully would like an answer to the questions we posed in time for this body to make a decision.”
The DOJ argues that the plaintiffs lack standing because they are challenging an opinion, not a statute. “The heart of the plaintiffs’ claim in this case is not that the government is threatening to do something that would violate their constitutional rights, but rather that they disagree with the government about whether a federal criminal statute applies to certain commercial wagering activity,” argues the government. It adds that Connecticut has introduced no evidence to show that it is on the verge of being prosecuted.
States that are also affected by this interpretation include Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.