New Hampshire’s Senate became the first U.S. state legislative chamber in 2023 to pass legislation permitting online casino, but did so with one significant caveat.
The Senate voted 12-11 on Thursday (March 30) to pass Senate Bill 104, which would legalize online casino gaming through an undetermined number of operators selected by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.
The operators would be selected through a competitive bidding process similar to the one utilized when the commission contracted DraftKings as its sole online sports-betting operator in 2019.
Although the bill would permit online table games, it would not permit online slots, which were removed during the committee review process as a concession to concerns that online casino would cannibalize the state’s charitable gaming operations.
“We came into an agreement where the electronic versions of games, historical horseracing (HHR), Lucky Seven, those are not in this bill; these are table games only that are in the bill,” said Senator Timothy Lang, a Republican and one of the bill’s most ardent supporters.
“If you still want to go and play HHR, you must go to a brick-and-mortar location, and have that money go to charity.”
“Further, I'd say that we came to an agreement, we offered in the RFP process, we are going to specify the fact that we are going to advertise for our brick-and-mortars based on geofencing, based on being available.”
Despite the concessions, the bill still passed the Senate by only one vote and even failed when it was first brought up before it was reconsidered shortly thereafter and received the narrow majority.
The bill will now advance to the state's House of Representatives, a unique body that, with 400 members, is the largest state legislative chamber in the United States, and boasts the smallest legislator to population ratio in the country.
The New Hampshire House has also historically been far more reluctant to embrace gambling expansion than the Senate, with the Senate approving various bills over the years to authorize land-based casinos only for those initiatives to die in the General Court's vast lower chamber.
New Hampshire’s 2023 legislative session is scheduled to end on June 30.
Although it may be a difficult task for online casino to pass in the New Hampshire House, Thursday's successful Senate vote is the first sign of life for online casino legislation in the U.S. to date in 2023.
Similar efforts have already failed in Indiana, Maryland and New York, while pending bills in Illinois and Iowa face significant opposition that is expected to derail efforts in those states for at least another year.