In New Hampshire, everyone – Gov. Chris Sununu, the House and the Senate – seems to want sports betting to live free in a regulated environment. But that doesn’t mean differing sports betting bills passed by each chamber won’t die in the final months of the legislative session.
Two days after the Senate passed legislation to authorize sports betting in the state by an overwhelming vote of 269-82, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro saw an opportunity.
For two decades, D’Allesandro has been trying to pass a bill to allow for two casinos in one of the few states left that doesn’t have casino gambling. On many occasions, the Senate put such legislation in front of the House only to have it rejected.
The effort came oh-so-close in 2014, failing by a single vote when the count deadlocked. However, it has since been soundly defeated.
Senator attaches sports betting to long-time NH casino effort
This year, D’Allesandro added sports betting to the casino bill but it couldn’t even clear the Senate, losing by a 13-11 vote on March 7. Following passage of H 480 by the House, he convinced three Senators to switch their votes to yes in order to bring the bill back from the dead.
“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,” D’Allesandro said in a phone interview. “We put it through when we thought it could pass. Timing is everything in this life.”
D’Allesandro expects that the gambling bills will be part of the budget discussion throughout April, with the possibility of sports betting being approved in May. The New Hampshire legislative session goes to June 30.
Sununu already put $10 million from sports betting in his 2020-21 budget proposal, calling on lawmakers to “go all in and get it done.”
“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.”
Differences between NH sports betting bills
The House bill authorizes sports betting to be run by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, which could choose ten lottery retailers and an online operator to partake.
In addition to calling for the casino expansion, S 310 permits sports betting at the casinos and through an “online sports pool operator.” The Lottery Commission would oversee sports betting as regulator but not participate.
Charles McIntyre, executive director of the NH Lottery Commission, tells Legal Sports Report that the bill could be changed to allow the lottery to participate along with the casinos, but it’s not something for which he’s advocating.
McIntyre does see a possible benefit of having the casinos partaking in sports betting.
“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,” he said.
D’Allesandro ready to play chicken
Imagine spending 20 years completing a task only to have it rejected by colleagues each and every year. D’Allesandro wants to bring legal sports betting to New Hampshire, but right now the issue is the means to an end of finally getting his casino bill through the House.
“I hope one drives the other in terms of momentum,” D’Allesandro said. “They voted for keno, they voted for sports betting. I think our bill becomes much more acceptable with votes taken and passed on those two items. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
If the House were to strip the Senate’s bill of the casino expansion and just pass sports betting, D’Allesandro asserted that wouldn’t sit well with the Senate.
“We have the opportunity to take the sports betting bill over here and add it on,” D’Allesandro said of the casino expansion. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Will NH let sports betting live free or die?
If the chambers pass differing amended versions of the bills, a committee of conference will be formed for the sides to work out their differences in the middle of May. McIntyre contends that such disparities usually are worked out in a committee of conference.
“I certainly haven’t heard a lot of negative comments about sports betting within the government,” McIntyre said. “The state wants revenue, recognizes that people are betting on sports illegally in a gray market and wants to bring that activity into the open.”
Now might just finally be the opportunity D’Allesandro has been waiting for to get casinos in New Hampshire, with sports betting providing the momentum.
“It took the lottery bill 10 years before it passed,” McIntyre pointed out. “The way laws work, you can have a no every year but it only takes one yes to get it approved. Sen. D’Allesandro is committed to waiting for the right moment when the tumblers come into place to get the casino bill passed.”