New Hampshire Gambling Laws

If I told you that the New Hampshire motto was “Live free or die”, you might be forgiven for suspecting they had liberal laws on gambling. When you learned that New Hampshire was the first ever state to legalize and run a state lottery, you’d probably feel more confident in this assessment. However when I went to mention that there are no casinos at all in the state, you might end up feeling a little confused.

The state of play in New Hampshire is just that, confusing. While on the one hand the state has a thriving charitable gaming scene which includes several large poker rooms, there is no provision for casino games or poker games outside of the charitable context, and technically this goes for friendly home games too – no exemption exists for them under state law. New Hampshire is home to one of the most historic horseracing tracks in the US, but it no longer runs live races and is host to poker games instead.

The state is also getting something of a reputation for producing strangely anti-heroic gambling legends as well, as the infamous Howard Lederer and his sister Annie Duke hail from New Hampshire. Without going in to too much depth, it’s well known that the former name has been involved in much more recent scandals - namely the Black Friday scandals.

The Letter of the Law         

New Hampshire regards gambling as anything which involves risking something of value in order to obtain something of value “upon a future contingent event not under one's control or influence”. Gambling is illegal unless specifically exempted under state law. Penalties range from misdemeanour to felony charges in part depending on the scale of activity.

There is no specific provision for social home gambling under New Hampshire law, which means that technically it would most likely fall under more general laws prohibiting unregulated gambling. However, there is an interesting debate in a Twoplustwo thread from 2012 on this matter [1], including posts from a regular who claims to be a practising lawyer in the state. It appears from this discourse that there is no precedent case where the law enforcement has raided a home game in New Hampshire, so this may suggest at least that this may be a relatively minor issue in the state.
The state allows horseracing and simulcasting, but there is essentially only the latter available, although abundantly so. Greyhound racing is also legal.

New Hampshire allows charitable gambling, and there’s a thriving industry providing this. Poker and bingo appear to be the games of choice, with certain electronic gambling machines allowed within defined parameters, including a required percentage of revenue being directed towards charities.

For more on the fine print of the law, the Criminal Code relating to gambling offences [2] is a fine guide to the penalties for a range of violations.

Is Online Gambling Legal in New Hampshire?

There is no specific statute in place within New Hampshire law dealing with online gambling, but this doesn’t matter much considering it’s very likely that it would be regarded as falling in with all other unregulated gambling in the state as clearly illegal.

As to whether there has been much movement in New Hampshire following trends in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware to license intra-state online gambling, there hasn’t been a whole lot just yet. However it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility especially with regard to online poker, since this is at least a game allowed in a charitable context by New Hampshire law.

While the Governor did state briefly a few years back that he might consider online gambling for its revenue boosting capacity [3], there has been no real motion in the legislature for this since.

In fact, the state’s only planned online gambling option, the chance to buy lottery tickets on the state website, has recently bitten the dust having been cancelled in 2010. According to local news outlet Concord Monitor [4], the reasons were financial rather than moral.

A local opinion piece from the Nashua Telegraph [5] dated September 2013 discusses the state political intricacies which have followed in the wake of the recent Department of Justice statement on the Wire Act, the one which prompted the moves which we’ve seen from the three states who have thus far chosen to regulate intra-state gambling of one form or another. It appears that Governor Hassan has an agenda in place to expand gambling by hook or by crook, be it with land-based casinos or something else, according to this Op. Ed. However, whether this will take place any time soon remains anyone’s guess.

What Forms of Gambling Are Legally Allowed?

The state lottery has been around since 1964, and collects well in excess of $200 million annually. The money goes mostly to New Hampshire schools [6], once prize money is accounted for.

Pari-mutuel wagering on both horses and greyhounds at licensed state racetracks is allowed, and in fact New Hampshire contains a flagship of US horseracing history, Rockingham Park, which has the distinction of having been the first racecourse opened in the history of New England. The track opened in 1933 as New Hampshire’s first form of legalized gambling. For a detailed history of Rockingham Park from its origins through to modern times, the official site has a complete timeline [7]. This local blog [8] has the lowdown on Rockingham Park’s decision to stop providing live racing in 2009.

The state also allows some bingo and machine gaming within the boundaries of charitable gaming, which is the main controlled form of gambling in the state besides the lottery.

There are no casinos in the state, tribal or otherwise, and it isn’t at all clear that home games are within the law. The main recourse for someone after a flutter is the charitable gaming empire, which includes several venues offering a decent amount of live poker play.

Legal Racinos and Poker

Rockingham Park has transitioned from the most famous and largest live racetrack in the state, to the best-known “racino”, offering simulcast racing and live poker with more besides. The venue also features blackjack and roulette as well as other table games. Bingo takes place several times a week, and the racino plays host to other events such as expos.

The tournament schedule for the busy poker room at Rockingham Park is pretty solid, with at least four events every single day and buy-ins ranging between $50 and $150 with a couple of $60 rebuys mixed in.

Seabrook poker room is also a favorite amongst locals, offering a tournament schedule to rival “the Rock”, with more or less the same volume of events and a similar range of buy-ins.

The Manch Vegas in Manchester runs 17 tables, and over a dozen tournaments a month, some of which have some strange progressive buy-ins allowed.

The River poker room actually offers blackjack and roulette as well, with many more table games running such as Let It Ride. Their fairly packed tournament schedule can be viewed here.

If you’d just like to view all your poker tournament options in New Hampshire on one tidy list, Cardrunners can provide. There’s also a reasonably active PocketFives community thread for New Hampshire players as well, for those of you looking for a more social aspect.

            Recent Developments to Regulate Internet Gambling in New Hampshire

In a strong move in the summer of 2012, New Hampshire clamped down on internet sweepstakes gambling which had been running alongside other gaming at several venues. Interestingly, many customers said they’d still play the machines without payouts, purely for amusement value, according to coverage from the local Eagle Tribune [9].

A lot of debate exists in the state about possible plans to expand gambling and introduce bona fide casinos to New Hampshire. Many speak out against such plans, for a variety of reasons, including the author of this opinion piece which Seacoast Online ran with in August 2013 [10] , which argues that casinos would bring social costs without sufficient fiscal benefits, simply robbing the lottery and poker rooms of revenue. Other sites such as the Live or Die Free Alliance offer pages with balanced debates on theis same subject [11].

Governor Hassan is in favor of putting in place one casino, in part due to plans in Massachusetts to expand gambling there. She claims the revenue generated would be significant, and would assist with the “mental health crisis” in the state. Debate in the legislature abounds on this matter, with some coverage offered here by Salem Patch [12].

There’s also some healthy discussion as to how any casinos which might be allowed in New Hampshire should be regulated, with some advocates suggesting this should be done by the state lottery. Some interesting rebuttals are offered by Foster’s Daily Democrat in this opinion piece .

Charity gambling reported a significant dip of $1.5 million in profit during 2012, which the Director of the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission ascribed in part to illegal online gaming which he acknowledges does take place in the state with some frequency, despite it being illegal.

Finally, New Hampshire commissioned a Gaming Study in 2010, which is focused on the risks and expectations surrounding expanded gaming in the state. The final report can be viewed in its entirety here [13].

Busts and Arrests

The state has its share of gambling arrests, but not so many make the headlines.

A grim scene is reported in a February 2013 edition of Exeter Patch, in which a man is alleged to have beaten up a 64 year old outside a poker room in order to steal $80.

A restaurant in the state known as Lupo’s in Hampton was raided by police in 2009 [14] and the owner charged with illegal gambling and released on bail.

Finally a major culprit in an international gambling operation run by Legendz Sports, provider of illegal sports book wagering to US clients, was arrested in New Hampshire in April 2013 and released on a $1 million bond. Known as Spiros The Greek , intriguingly this family man is described by an “industry veteran” in this piece by Sporting News as “one of the good guys” in offshore gambling.

Summary

Wagering options in New Hampshire range from the state lottery, oldest in the USA, through simulcast wagering on horse and greyhound racing, to table games such as poker, roulette and blackjack - provided these are run by state licensed card rooms for charity. There are also certain forms of electronic gambling available on this same basis, as well as bingo and other games.

Very little exists outside of charitable gambling in the state, but there are several thriving poker rooms which exist within the law. Private home gaming is not specifically allowed for under state law, and no plans have yet emerged to license for any sort of intra-state online gambling.

Your best bet for a range of gambling options including simulcast, poker, roulette, bingo and more has to be one of the larger racinos in the state, the Rock or Seabrook. There’s word that land-based casinos might be on the way in the future, well at least one resort, if the current Governor has her way.

Sources for this article

  1. TwoPlusTwo.com: New Hampshire Poker Case Law
  2. New Hampshire: Chapter 647 Gambling Offenses
  3. Boston.com: NH gov considers legalizing online gambling
  4. ConcordMonitor.com: N.H. Lottery ditches new online game
  5. NashuaTelegraph.com: NH shouldn’t gamble with online casinos
  6. NHLottery.com: Where the money goes
  7. Rockinghampark.com: History
  8. Viewfromthegrandstand - Blog: Rockingham Park on the Ropes?
  9. EagleTribune.com: NH pulls plug on Seabrook 'sweepstakes' machines
  10. SeaCoastOnline.com: Gambling will still be a bad idea in 2014
  11. LiveFreeOrdieAlliance.org: Is gambling the best bet for New Hampshire?
  12. Salem-NH: Sweeney Bets on The House
  13. NH.Gov: New Hampshire Gaming Study - Final Report of Findings
  14. SeaCoastOnline.com: Lupo's raided; illegal gambling alleged