Charities help make historic race gambling a reality

Volunteers with New Hampshire charities held signs outside the NH Sportsplex in Bedford last April, urging lawmakers to approve a bill legalizing bets on past horse races to benefit nonprofits. Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bill (HB 1626) into law this week.

The state expects gambling on “historic horse racing” to bring in $6 million in its first year, after Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday signed the bill authorizing it.

By the second year, betting on these randomly selected races from the past will total $12 million annually, according to legislative budget writers.

It was support from charities who suffered during the pandemic that convinced the Legislature to look for new forms of gambling to help fund non-profits.

Sununu signed HB 626 with two of its biggest legislative supporters on hand: House Ways and Means Vice Chairman and the bill’s prime author, Pat Abrami, R-Stratham, and Rep. Fred Doucet, R-Salem.

The former Rockingham Park complex in Salem is the site of one of the biggest charitable gaming venues in the state.

“For years, legislators have worked to add historic horse-racing to charitable gaming and have always come up short,” Sununu said in a statement.

“I was happy to help bring this bill across the finish line with my signature, which will generate millions of dollars a year for N.H. non-profits. ”

New Hampshire becomes the sixth state to legalize historic horse racing.

Gamblers can place bets of up to $25 on randomly selected horse races from the past.

They must be given “true and accurate information” about all the competing horses, but they are not told the date when the race took place until after bets are placed.

The new law requires the game operator to show the bettor a “replay of each race, whether digital, animated or by way of a video recording.”

State officials said the machines will be equipped with a “multi-year” archive of races. Upcoming administrative rules will spell out in more detail these and other requirements.

“As with any new offering, we will work together with our partners to perform our due diligence in establishing a set of rules and regulations to ensure we are able to maintain the highest levels of integrity, while also delivering a fun and exciting new product,” said Charlie McIntyre, the New Hampshire Lottery’s executive director.

Charities get less

Gambling opponents in the Legislature said the law shortchanged charities.

Charities currently get 35% of charitable gambling wagers at the 16 sites across the state licensed to hold casino-like gambling.

With historic racing, charities will receive 8.75% of all wagers.

The state will receive 16.25%, with most of that going to state aid to education and the cost of administering the games..

Abrami said charities get a smaller take than existing games because presently they pay the mini-casinos significant rent payments that won’t be charged for historic racing.

The machines look a lot like those gamblers in New Hampshire already use to find out if their Lucky 7 tickets are winners, he said.

“Are these slot machines? Yes, they may look and feel like a slot machine, but they are not,” Abrami said during House debate on the bill.

All unclaimed winning tickets, and those odd cents of a bet not paid out — downward rounding of odds known as breakage — will go into a fund to help those addicted to gambling. That is expected to generate $2.1 million in 2022.

This legislation was one of the most-lobbied bills of the 2021 session, with at least a dozen lobbyists signed up to represent gambling companies and makers of video terminals used for this gambling.

State officials estimate a thousand of the historic race machines will be up and running by next Jan. 1 or sooner.

The gambling companies that will host games are expected to net $49 million a year in profit by mid-2023.