New Hampshire Gambling Timeline

Legal progress of gambling laws in NH

New Hampshire recently passed House Bill 480. This legalized sports betting — both retail and online. When you look back through the history of the Granite State, you’ll find this is the latest in a long list of bills covering the many forms of gambling.

The original statutes banned all gambling activity. Bills since then have carved out different areas. New Hampshire was the first state to introduce a lottery, and it has pari-mutuel betting laws and an extensive charity gambling carve out.

This page takes you through the most recent changes to gambling laws in New Hampshire — then goes back to look at the key events in the last 100 years. Things are changing fast throughout the state, and possible future scenarios for New Hampshire are covered at the end of this page.

Quick timeline of New Hampshire gambling legislation

You’ll find more detail on all of these acts below:

  • 2020: First retail and online sportsbooks scheduled to open.
  • 2019: Sports betting (retail and online) regulated.
  • 2017: Online daily fantasy sports contests regulated.
  • 2014: Charity gambling oversight strengthened; bet limits increased.
  • 1971: Pari-mutuel betting on greyhound races introduced.
  • 1963: Lottery (originally called “Sweepstakes”) introduced.
  • 1949: First charity gambling act, legalizes bingo, raffles and lucky 7.
  • 1933: Pari-mutuel horse racing betting made legal.

NH sports betting set to launch in 2020

The repeal of an old act known as “PASPA” in 2018 has triggered a wave of legislation nationwide. Jurisdiction over online sports betting was returned to individual states.

New Hampshire was an early adopter, introducing HB 480, which was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu in July 2019.

This set up a licensing system for sportsbooks. Both retail sportsbooks and online betting apps were covered. Individual cities have a final say via referendum for retail books. Instead of a fixed tax rate like you’ll see in other states, New Hampshire set up a bidding process.

Though multiple licenses were possible, DraftKings became the only winner — offering NH 51% of its revenues. DraftKings had already been active with its daily fantasy sports product. It is set to introduce full sports betting in early 2020.

To bet in New Hampshire you need to be 18 or older. There is no requirement to be a permanent resident, although you do need to be inside state lines to place a wager. You will not be able to bet on college sports involving teams from inside New Hampshire.

New Hampshire gambling timeline: The original statutes

When the statutes were written, the political and religious climate was very different from today. Gambling in all forms was considered a social ill — and banned outright.

New Hampshire used a detailed definition of gambling, which covered all the popular formats in one go. The definition can be found below:

— “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. (section 647-2 of the New Hampshire Statutes)

This was made broader by covering ownership of gambling devices, and lending money to someone for gambling. Showing of “symbols” effectively preempted the new mechanical slot machines, which would prove very popular elsewhere. The definition included lottery tickets (originally known as sweepstakes tickets), which were given as prizes in an early attempt at finding a loophole in the gambling laws.

1930s: The Great Depression triggers pari-mutuel gambling laws

The first exclusion from the original statutes came in 1933. This was a difficult time economically, and many states allowed bets on horse racing to plug holes in their coffers. Racing bets use a “pari-mutuel” (pooled) system.

Originally, these bets would have been placed in person at Rockingham Park horse racing track. The last race took place in 2012 in New Hampshire. The “final straw” was an act in 2010, which added an extra 10% tax to horse racing bets. This was repealed in 2011, though many commentators believe that the damage had already been done.

You can still access the pari-mutuel pools at out-of-state tracks using popular online horse racing sites such as BetAmerica and TVG.

At its height, Rockingham Park was a busy track — with a packed schedule of thoroughbred racing. Legendary horses often participated, with the infamous Seabiscuit running there in both 1935 and 1936.

1949 and 1977: Charity bingo and raffles

Charity gambling is an active area in NH. This started in 1949, when a bill was passed allowing bingo (originally called “Beano”), raffles and a game called “Lucky 7.”

This area was expanded in 1977 to include games of chance. This is the law that governs the many charity casinos and poker rooms found throughout the state. Charities must receive 35% of the revenues of these operations. Bet levels are capped at $10 (this started at $1 and has gradually increased over the years). Poker buy-ins for cash games are capped at $150, but bet sizes are no longer capped. Tournament buy-ins are uncapped.

In 2014, additional legislation was passed to improve governance and oversight of this area.

You’ll find a lot of smaller casinos and poker rooms in New Hampshire operating under charity gambling laws. Here is the current list:

  • Aces and Eights Casino
  • Boston Billiard Club and Casino
  • Chasers Poker Room
  • Concord Casino
  • Keene Casino
  • Lakes Region Casino
  • Lebanon Poker Room and Casino
  • Manchester Poker Room
  • Northwoods Casino
  • Speakeasy Casino at the Governor’s Inn
  • The Greyhound Casino and Tavern
  • The Poker Room at Hampton Falls

1963: New Hampshire Lottery Act

The Granite State was the first on the mainland to introduce a lottery. Only Puerto Rico came before New Hampshire. This was originally known as the “New Hampshire Sweepstakes.” It started in 1964, following a referendum.

Draws were originally decided based on the results of thoroughbred horse races at Rockingham Park. However, these were later replaced by ball-based draws.

In 1995, New Hampshire joined the Multi State Lottery Association. This gives residents access to a range of big money games, including the Powerball and Mega Millions. In 2018, online lottery games were introduced. These work in similar ways to scratch cards, operating in your web browser.

1971: Greyhound racing bets legalized

Today greyhound racing is being banned around the country — based on animal welfare concerns. It was legalized in New Hampshire in 1971. Betting took place at Seabrook Park, the Lodge at Belmont and Hinsdale Greyhound tracks, and used the same pari-mutuel system as horse racing bets.

The last greyhound race in NH took place in 2008.

2014: Many gambling expansion acts introduced

Acts were introduced to allow for a brick and mortar casino, to increase bet levels for charity events and to define poker as a game of skill. None of these bills made it far through the legislative process. The only successful bill was HB 1630 — which strengthened oversight for charity gambling activities.

2017: Daily fantasy sports regulated

DFS contests operate in most states, though only a handful have laws specifically allowing them. New Hampshire joined this list when House Bill 580 was signed by Gov. Sununu in July 2017. This set out rules for daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, taxing revenues received from the New Hampshire players.

2019: Sports betting regulated

As covered above, the most recent expansion introduced the ability to bet on pro and college sports. This covers retail sportsbook and online betting. DraftKings has been awarded the only license, which will run for six years. It is yet to be seen how the lack of competition between brands will affect the odds on offer, welcome bonuses and promotions for New Hampshire sports bettors.

Other forms of gambling in New Hampshire

You can bet on horses online in New Hampshire. There are national sites, which benefited from a carve out from the 2006 UIGEA laws. Betting online on horse races is legal in any state where it is legal to bet on horses in person. While there are no tracks in NH anymore, the laws on pari-mutuel betting stand. Sites that offer horse racing bets include BetAmerica, TVG and Twin Spires.

It is also possible to bet on slots, casino games and poker online under sweepstakes contest laws. Sites such as Chumba Casino, Luckyland Slots and Global Poker all operate using “sweeps coins” — a virtual currency. By treating the games as small sweepstakes contests — and giving away sweeps coins for free — these sweepstakes gambling sites stay within the law.

The future of gambling in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has demonstrated a progressive approach to gambling legislation. Nevertheless, it has not yet reached the level of New Jersey or Pennsylvania in terms of what is legal.

The next steps could well depend on the successful implementation of online sports betting. If this proves to be a big revenue generator for NH, then it might grab the attention of politicians. Whether the expansion of gambling would include non-charity brick and mortar casinos, online casinos or poker rooms — or any other forms of gambling — is something that we will need to wait to find out.