New Hampshire, like many New England states, was founded as a place where people were free to do whatever they wanted. While that is so, it seems as though something got lost in translation because there are very few casino options available to residents nor visitors. While this may be unusual, considering the origins of the founding of the state, the restrictive nature of New Hampshire’s casino laws is not atypical of New England.
While the overall history of New Hampshire is one that has not been very friendly to casinos, it seems as though the tide is slowly but surely shifting. As neighboring states legalize casino-style gambling and reap the tax benefits therein, New Hampshire has had its back against the wall, so to speak. As such, the future looks very bright as it relates to legalized casino gambling in the state.
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The Granite State has fairly liberal gambling laws, but unfortunately, you won’t find any commercial or tribal casinos here. Casino games are available exclusively at the racetrack facilities, but they aren’t allowed to offer anything beyond the basic games like blackjack or roulette.
Pari-mutuel betting, on the other hand, is widely available. New Hampshire has some charity gambling events and operates its own lottery, but hasn’t passed any dedicated iGaming laws. As a result, local iGaming enthusiasts simply play on offshore sites.
The “Live Free or Die” state isn’t so keen on the freedom to gamble at casinos – at least not in the traditional way we think of casinos.
The state does not house any licensed commercial casinos, and tribal gaming is not available. There are, however, charitable gaming laws that allow one to open a gaming establishment as long as they partner with a charity and agree to grant it 35% of their nightly take.
Because of those laws, there are now hundreds of small-scale “casinos” operating around the state.
Some are tiny and only consist of a few pull-tabs. Others are only open on weekends. However, you can also find several larger establishments with table games and poker rooms. For example, the Ocean Gaming Casino in Hampton hosts table games like blackjack, craps, roulette, and poker. You can play there from 12 pm to 1 am.
Slot machines remain illegal.
Up until July 2018, these gaming establishments were limited to a maximum bet of $4. This was increased to $10 with a new law signed by Governor Chris Sununu.
One other caveat regarding New Hampshire’s gaming establishments: any single charity can benefit from gaming donations on a maximum of ten days in a given 12-month period. As a result, many of these “casinos” partner with dozens of New Hampshire charities.
Along with the 35% in revenue that must be donated to charity, 10% must be given to the state.
You must be 21 to visit a New Hampshire gaming establishment, where alcohol is served.
Though there are a few casinos located across the state, they are not only few and far between, they are also nothing like the casinos you will find in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Right now, the only legal type of gambling is charitable gambling. This means that the casinos that exist see more than 30% of their revenues go directly to charities. While this doesn’t necessarily affect individual players, it affects casino operators, who are not exactly chomping at the bit to open a casino where close to half of the revenue goes straight out the door.
Sports betting is not yet legal in New Hampshire.
After the Supreme Court returned the decision regarding the legality of sports betting to the states, Governor Chris Sununu said he was supportive of the idea, and state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro promised that if he is reelected in November 2018, he will introduce a sports betting bill as soon as the 2019 legislative session begins.
D’Allesandro believes sports betting could work electronically through the New Hampshire Lottery. He’s also spoken to representatives from Caesar’s about the possibility of setting up a sportsbook, although that would likely require the legislation to also legalize a commercial casino, which might be a step too far.
Daily fantasy sports is legal in New Hampshire. In July 2017, Governor Chris Sununu signed HB 580-FN-A, legalizing participation in fantasy sports contests for money.
Vital to DFS operators as well as consumers, the bill does not issue a tax or any kind of license fee. DFS companies can simply register with the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and agree to follow common consumer protection practices, such as keeping player and prize funds separate from operational expenses. They’re also expected to provide resources to players with gambling addictions.
DFS Players must be at least 18 years old.
Horse racing is legal in New Hampshire. Sadly, Rockingham Park, the last racecourse in the state and one that once saw Seabiscuit race around its oval, closed its doors in 2016 after 110 years of existence.
All greyhound racecourses have closed as well.
With all these track closures in New Hampshire, off-track betting is now also in jeopardy. By state law, facilities are only allowed to offer simulcast wagering if they also host live racing. OTB locations have been granted a 36-month grace period to re-start live racing or else close their doors for good. The lone remaining OTB location in the state, Hinsdale OTB, only has time until early 2019 to meet this requirement.
Until then, you can place wagers on horse and greyhound races from all over the country, provided you are at least 21 years old.
Thanks to the wide range of charitable gaming establishments in New Hampshire, players can find nearly 100 different poker tournaments in the state going on every week.
As with the change in casino betting that increased the maximum bets on table games from $4 to $10, the $4 limit on poker was removed entirely, replaced with a regulation that sets the maximum buy-in at $150 regardless of the table stakes. This made New Hampshire a far more interesting destination for players looking for a lot of competitive games in a relatively concentrated area.
You must be at least 21 years old to play at one of the many poker rooms in New Hampshire.
Legalizing online poker has been discussed, but as of today, it remains illegal.
New Hampshire was the first state in the U.S. to adopt its own state constitution, and as one of the original 13 colonies, it’s tied for being the oldest state in the union. It also runs the oldest lottery of the 50 states, with what was then known as the New Hampshire Sweepstakes first introduced in 1964.
Along with scratch-off tickets and an instant win game called Fast Play, New Hampshire offers the following draw games:
You must be at least 18 to purchase a lottery ticket.
Small casinos created by charitable gaming laws have become king in New Hampshire, and along with the many non-traditional games permitted by the charitable gaming laws in the Granite State – such as poker, blackjack, and craps – good old-fashioned bingo is also widely available.
Hundreds of licensed charitable bingo games are held in New Hampshire every week. The Racing and Charitable Gaming Division lists all of them alphabetically by city/town on its website.
Bingo players in New Hampshire must be at least 18 years old.
The biggest year for gambling in New Hampshire has to be 1933, when pari-mutuel betting on horse races was legalized. Shortly after this move was made, plenty of locations opened up to offer betting, including the racetracks at which the racing was happening. For a long time, the existence of horse betting meant that charitable gambling had a wider reach, but funding for the horseracing industry was axed shortly after 2010 after things began declining pretty dramatically. Though many of these horserace betting locations still exist and still facilitate pari-mutuel wagering, there are no new sites being erected due to the almost total lack of horseracing.
For background, the horserace industry was finally put to rest thanks to a measure passed in 2009 that added a 10% tax to all winning bets. This essentially drove any and all gambling money away from New Hampshire racetracks and killed the industry. In a way, this killed most charitable gambling options.
As we look towards the future, there is a large movement to legalize casino-style gambling. In 2014 alone, for example, more than 5 different measures were introduced that would have legalized casino gambling in one form or another. Though none of these measures gained enough of a foothold to be voted upon and passed, it does signal to people that there is a changing of the opinion of many lawmakers. While only 10 years ago you would be hard-pressed to find even one representative that was supportive of casino gambling, there are now multiple people who fit that description. With gambling growing in New England, New Hampshire can only hold out for so long.