New Hampshire Online Gambling Decriminalization Bill in Committee

Anybody else feel like this piecemeal, state-by-state approach to legalize online poker in the United States is tiresome? I mean come on, just legalize it on the federal level already and let’s starting playing. Hell, put an “opt out” clause in there so the states that want to stupidly give up tax revenue can decide to protect its residents from the mortal sin of gambling. Yeah, yeah, states’ rights, blah, blah, states have traditionally made their own decisions on gambling, blah, blah. It’s old already. But since each state has to come up with its own poker laws and regulations, we’re going to have news items about the topic. At least New Hampshire recently saw a bill introduced that has injected a little bit “Things that Make You Go Hmmmm…” into the mix.*

new-hampshire-stampHB562 was actually introduced in early January, but perhaps because the focus lately has been on Pennsylvania’s effort to regulate online gambling or maybe because it is such a small, seemingly nothing bill, not many people noticed it. At has since been handed over to the House Ways and Means committee and had a public hearing on January 31st.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Representatives Eric Schleien, Nick Zaricki, and Robert Fisher, would amend Chapter 647 of the New Hampshire Criminal Code – the chapter that deals with “Gambling Offenses” – to exempt online gambling from the definition of illegal gambling.

The summary of the bill is as follows:

This bill exempts gambling done over the Internet from gambling offenses under RSA 647.  The Department of Justice to date has neither investigated nor prosecuted online gaming offenses and therefore does not expect this bill to have any impact on expenditures.  To the extent this bill legalizes a form of gambling, it may have an indeterminable impact on lottery and charitable gaming revenue.  Lottery and charitable gaming revenue is credited to the lottery fund, with net revenues after Lottery Commission expenditures being credited to the state education trust fund.

HB562 would simply add subparagraph (d) to the portion of the law that lists the types of games to which the illegal gambling laws do not apply. It is just one sentence which reads, “Gambling done over an Internet connection on a website on the Internet.”

Ok, so the bill would make it so that internet gambling is not illegal in New Hampshire. Other than that being cool for residents of the Granite State who want to play online poker, so what? Other bills have been introduced in other states that exempt online poker from the illegal gambling category. Other bills have been introduced that legalize and regulate online poker.

But look at it again. There is nothing here that actually regulates online gambling. New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada, all legalized and regulated online gambling (Nevada only regulated online poker), setting up strict rules and regulations by which operators and players must abide. Operators must be granted licenses by the respective states. They must have certain technologies in place to prevent children from playing. Their software must pass certain tests. Operating funds must be separate from player funds. So on and so forth.

This bill does nothing like that. All it says is that online gambling is not illegal in New Hampshire. Nobody has to get licensed, no regulations are established. That’s it. I mean, hell, look at the summary. It’s basically saying that since the Department of Justice hasn’t found the need to bother itself with “illegal” online gambling, why not just let people play?

What there is no mention of is the exact motivation for the bill. Since there is no regulatory portion, it has nothing to do with protecting consumers. Since there is no tax or fees portion, it has nothing to do with raising money for the state. Based on the text, law enforcement hasn’t been overburdened with investigations resulting in nothing, so it probably doesn’t have anything to do with easing the DoJ’s workload.

It really seems like a, “Shit man, just let ‘em play,” bill.

Odds are this bill won’t go anywhere; even I, as a huge online poker supporter would be a bit wary of not setting up regulations. If it did, though, things could get very interesting. New Hampshire players could conceivable hop on international sites like PokerStars, provided those sites open their doors to people from New Hampshire. But since at that point, it would be totally legal to gamble online in the state, those sites likely would allow New Hampshire players.

I look forward to the Great New Hampshire Poker Player Migration of 2018.

*I did my research and made sure I had the correct number of “m’s” as well as the ellipsis in the title of the C+C Music Factory song.

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