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Granite State joins legal list

Insight | Analysis

New Hampshire is poised to join a growing number of states with legal sports betting, with House Bill 480 just a signature away from coming into law. It would be a huge shock for New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu to veto the bill.

During his budget address in February this year, the governor called on lawmakers to seize the opportunity to pass sports betting regulations and “get it done.” This leaves the bill’s sponsor, Representative Timothy Lang, “extremely excited” about the bill passing into law. “It helps the citizens by putting in place consumer protections, it gives businesses new opportunities and gives the state new revenue to fund education,” he says.

Sports betting will be administered by the state lottery, which will select partners through a tender process. These partners will be required to agree revenue sharing agreements with the state, which it expects to generate revenue of $11.3m, from stakes of $225.0m, in its 2021 fiscal year. This will rise steadily to $12.5m by FY2023. For Lang, who describes himself as “a big believer in individual liberties,” the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Professional passageand Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018 sparked his interest in legal wagering. As soon as states had the right to regulate betting, he wanted to ensure New Hampshire enabled that right.

Through discussions with former Representative Bill Ohm and New Hampshire Lottery executive director Charlie McIntyre, he began to formulate plans for a regulatory framework. What ensured HB480’s passage, he says, was a willing to compromise a lot. “I didn’t take the stance that my way was the only way, and I was willing to accept changes that I didn’t necessarily like—that was a big aspect of getting this bill passed,” he explains.

This, however, has resulted in elements of which he is less than supportive making it into law. “The thing I was most disappointed with was the limit on the number of locations and agents,” he says. “I tend to be a free market guy, but they limited the market to ten locations and five online operators.” Also included was an amendment banning brick-and-mortar establishments from offering in-play wagering. This is something he plans to address once the market is live by introducing a statute to add it back in.

“I think it was a mistake,” he says. “It’s silly that I can sit in a place and not have a bet in-play but can do just that, in that place, by pulling out my phone.” But this doesn’t detract from his excitement at having shepherded HB480 into law. The bill garnered support from both sides of the house, and Lang considers gambling a largely bipartisan issue. “It’s just the form it takes that creates party divides,” he says. “Republicans are generally against limits on licenses, as they generally want to let the free market be at play and let it take care of itself. If there are too many operators, some will not make enough money and shut down, and the problem has taken care of itself.”

He admits that the adherence to free market principles helped kill a bill to legalize casino gambling in the state. Senate Bill 310 would have allowed up to two land-based venues to be constructed. While it passed the Senate, it was overwhelmingly defeated in the House. The limited number of licenses made the bill appear “too monopolistic,” Lang notes. “On the Democrat side, however, it’s the social issues that create problems, and that gambling could become addictive for some people,” he continues. Lang is clearly a believer in player protection as well—HB480 creates the Council for Responsible Gambling and allocates 10% of revenue to fund the treatment of gambling addiction.

“I’m a big believer in personal responsibility and that people should make their own decisions, but I do think it is important to put that in place for people whose gambling gets out of control,” he says. Arguably the biggest issue he faced in drafting the bill, however, was the Wire Act. While the New Hampshire Lottery has led the charge against the Department of Justice’s new interpretation, winning a significant court victory, Lang does not believe the matter is closed. He has attempted to stay within its confines with the sports betting legislation. A provision that betting data on any wager initiated and settled within state borders will be considered to have remained in-state, even if it transfers to an out-of-state datacenter, is included.

Despite this, he fully expects to see legal action: “There is going to be a lawsuit to challenge the state operators, around the incidental transfer of data across state lines. Someone is going to sue about that.”

On HB480’s solution, he hopes it will be supported by the DoJ. “But again, it’ll be a case of waiting and seeing,” he says. Whatever happens, everything remains on hold until Governor Sununu finally signs the bill. But already Lang admits that thoughts are turning to expanding the market further. “We’ll take baby steps, see how sports betting plays out and gather data on that. But I think there will be some logical progression to allowing other forms of gambling.”