The online gambling bill would support 2-year tuition

25 Jan. – CONCORD – Legalizing online betting could generate enough profit to offer free tuition to New Hampshire students who qualify for an income to attend two-year colleges here, lawyers said Wednesday.

Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he drafted this bill (SB 104) in response to the 2019 legislation he drafted that legalized sports betting.

The New Hampshire Lottery would manage the online betting. The agency estimates it could generate $17 million in its first year, Lang said.

Under the bill, New Hampshire’s Community College System would administer a scholarship fund to provide tuition, books, and fees to any in-state student whose household income is low enough to qualify for a federal Pell Grant.

“We can get trained personnel to New Hampshire quickly,” Lang said.

If passed, New Hampshire would join about six states that allow their residents to bet online.

But a leading lobbyist warned that this expansion would cannibalize the profits currently being made from the 13 casino-like companies that run games that benefit charities in New Hampshire.

Peter Bragdon, a former Senate President, represents Churchill Downs, which owns gambling establishments in 12 states, including the Chasers Poker Room in Salem, the state’s largest charity gambling venue.

Bragdon said “physical” arcades have been hurt in other states that have legalized online betting.

“We think it’s too early to pursue another dramatic change in New Hampshire and instead we’re supporting an investigation into online gaming,” Bragdon said.

Currently no recourse for online betting scams

The American Gaming Association estimates that residents living in states where online gaming is illegal placed $3.3 billion in such bets last year, Lang said.

Those residents who play online Texas Hold’em or other poker tournaments have no recourse if gambling operators take their winnings from them, said Rebecca London, government affairs manager for DraftKings, the New Hampshire sports betting provider.

“They still don’t have the teeth to go after those illegal operators,” London said.

“By legalizing it … with the lottery, we have that regulator to make sure we have the money to pay our customers.”

Senator David Watters, D-Dover, approved the legislation, saying it supplements his own bipartisan bill (SB 153) to recruit and retain first responders in New Hampshire by compensating them when they take college courses.

“There’s clearly some symmetry here,” Watters said.

Watters said both ideas will likely be part of the debate when lawmakers craft the state’s next two-year budget this spring.

Dr. Community college chancellor Mark Rubinstein said policymakers in 30 states are moving toward free education for income-eligible students at two-year schools.

“Cost is still a barrier here and we hope that can change and that this bill can make an important contribution,” Rubenstein added.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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