HomeThe ShuffleFirst N.H. Town Could Vote on Sports Betting

First N.H. Town Could Vote on Sports Betting

The town of Laconia, New Hampshire, could vote to be one of the first cities in the Granite State to ask its voters to embrace sports betting this week. A public meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 26 regarding a possible November ballot question on the matter. Laconia is home to the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in September.

The town council of Laconia, New Hampshire, set a public meeting for Monday, August 26 regarding a possible November ballot question on sports betting.

New Hampshire became the ninth state to legalize sports betting last month, when Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill authorizing the Lottery Commission to regulate up to 10 licenses for sports book operations within new or existing retail operations, plus up to five online sportsbook licenses.

Laconia town council members approved a motion “to schedule a public hearing during the August 26, 2019 regular City Council meeting on the possible placement of a ballot question on the November 5, 2019 Municipal Election Ballot pertaining to the permitted operation of New Hampshire Lottery sports betting within the City of Laconia.”

If the town approves the measure, it would be the first in the Granite State to implement House Bill 480, which authorizes up to 10 retail sportsbook locations in municipalities that vote to host them.

Laconia is a city of about 16,000 people, known for tourist-friendly activities such as Motorcycle Week in June, which bills itself as the oldest national bike rally in the U.S.; the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in September; and the Laconia Multicultural Festival, also in September.

The Laconia Daily Sun’s Managing Editor Roger Carroll said it’s hard to gauge the community’s pulse on whether it will favor sports betting in the town. “It’s not the kind of thing that’s a hot topic at the local diner,” he said in an exclusive interview with GGB News.

The paper, which has a circulation of about 18,000 and serves most of the communities in the region, tries to keep its finger on hot topics. But this one doesn’t seem to be generating much heat yet.

“It’s summer and I don’t think this is something that people are hot about,” said Carroll. “But that’s what public hearings are for. All we did was a story on the meeting. We don’t judge them before we judge them.”

The editor said he was at the Oxford Casino in Maine with his wife when one of his reporters wrote about the council action—which indicates that there is at least some interest in gaming in the town.

He noted that gaming is a perennial source of conflict in the legislature. “I think the Senate passed [casino gaming] a few times, but the House always shot it down. At one point one of our governors put gaming revenue that didn’t exist in the budget. And yet we were the first state in the country to adopt the lottery in 1964. So, it’s not an inherent antipathy to gaming as such.”

He added that when he and his wife play bingo, the hall is always full. “So, I can’t sit here and tell you that people feel that strongly about it.”

The author of House Bill 480, Rep. Tim Lang, in an exclusive interview with GGB, said his main goal in proposing the bill was “Increasing people’s liberties while at the same time creating some consumer protections, and increasing business opportunities.”

Asked if he sees the new law having an effect on tourism, Lang said, “While I don’t see people flocking to New Hampshire to place a bet, I do think it will have a minor incremental impact.”

Lang was persuaded that sportsbooks would be a good fit for his state, despite the legislature’s traditional antipathy to casino gaming, “New Englanders love their sports, and in New Hampshire we love our freedoms,” he said. “So I felt it was a natural fit.”

He added that he feels the same way about all gaming options. “I think people should be able to choose to participate or not, and the role of the state is to make sure the consumer is not taken advantage of.”

The process for communities to put approval for sports betting on the ballot is similar to the way Keno was introduced into the state. Lang predicts that many of the same issues will be at the forefront for voters in communities such as Laconia.

“If it was like our Keno statute we passed two years ago, it will be driven by businesses who see an opportunity to increase ‘dwell time’ in their establishments. This in turn will increase food and beverage sales, which will increase the state’s meals and rentals tax receipts, of which a percentage goes back to the municipalities. So it’s a win for everyone.”

Lang added that he expects all ten locations will be used within the state, although he’s not sure of the distribution.

The law gives communities the option of approving retail wagering venues, although the number statewide will be limited to 10 sports betting retail locations, and no more than five mobile sports wagering agents.

The law mandates that the state create a division of sports wagering to enforce the law. It also creates a Council for Responsible Gambling that will be funded with $250,000 a year collected from sports betting taxes. It will recruit from persons “qualified in the field of addiction or mental health services with a focus on problem gambling.”

Meanwhile, Officials of Dover, New Hampshire are planning to ask voters to approve sports betting in local bars and retail businesses in a referendum for this fall’s elections. Last week, the Dover City Counsel reviewed a proposed ballot question that could bring sports betting to Dover early next year.

While voter approval of sports betting would not guarantee Dover one of the licenses, Mayor Karen Weston told the Foster’s news site the resolution would at least keep the city in the game. “Instead of being behind the times… if the state’s going to do that kind of betting, we want Dover to have that opportunity to be at the forefront,” Weston said. “We just want to make sure it’s not a missed opportunity for the city of Dover.”

Sports betting in New Hampshire is expected to generate an estimated $7.5 million for education in fiscal 2021, and $13.5 million by 2023.

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