New Hampshire Voters Deciding On Local Retail Sportsbooks, Keno

Posted on: November 2, 2021, 08:44h. 

Last updated on: November 2, 2021, 11:49h.

On this Election Day, voters in New Hampshire are primarily weighing in on their local school board makeups and municipal governments.

New Hampshire sports betting keno gambling
A campaign sign reminds New Hampshire voters in Portsmouth that they will decide whether keno gambling will be permitted inside local restaurants and bars. Residents in Nashua will determine if a DraftKings sportsbook can come to town. (Image: NHPR)

Though there are five special state House elections, New Hampshire is not electing a new governor, nor a US House or Senate office. But for the state gaming industry, today presents two critical election outcomes.

Voters in Portsmouth and Nashua are each facing local ballot questions asking whether they support expanded gambling.

In Portsmouth, residents will conclude if restaurants and bars will be allowed to offer keno inside their establishments. In Nashua, the second-most populated city in New Hampshire, behind only nearby Manchester, voters will settle whether physical retail sportsbooks should be allowed within the city’s limits.

Local Referendum Process

In New Hampshire, residents can initiate a local ballot referendum by obtaining signatures from at least 20 percent of the city’s population. If a simple majority backs the question on election day, the motion is approved.

New Hampshire legalized sports betting in 2019, with Gov. Chris Sununu (R) placing the first bet on December 30 of that year. Because the state does not have any tribal or commercial land-based casinos, New Hampshire’s lone legal sportsbook — DraftKings — operates almost exclusively online.

However, the 2019 gaming expansion bill allowed for retail land-based sportsbooks at as many as 10 locations. But those can only be opened after a local ballot referendum passes showing that area citizens want to allow such an establishment.

DraftKings is New Hampshire’s sole sports betting partner. The interactive platform has opened three land-based sportsbooks in Dover, Manchester, and Seabrook. That’s following successful local referendum votes held in each of those jurisdictions in 2020.

The three sportsbooks are located at charitable card clubs/poker rooms, of which there are many throughout the state. Known as “games of chance facilities,” the venues can operate an array of live dealer and electronic table games, including poker, blackjack, and roulette. Such casinos are required to direct 35 percent of their gross gaming revenue (GGR) to charities approved by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.

That tax mandate, however, does not apply to sports betting. Instead, DraftKings shares 51 percent of its proceeds with the state lottery.

Keno Needed, Restauranter Says

In Portsmouth, local business owners contend that allowing them to incorporate keno into their restaurants and watering holes would help spark an economic recovery for their struggling industry.

Keno, a game that comes with odds worse than a slot machine, challenges players to pick winning draw numbers. The game is operated by the New Hampshire Lottery, withdraws occurring every five minutes around the clock.

With COVID and everything that has happened to the restaurant industry it’s another way to help rebuild, bring more people in, increase your lunch and dinner crowds,” Jeff Goss, owner of The Clipper Tavern in town, told NHPR.

There are currently 84 towns and cities in New Hampshire that have authorized keno inside businesses holding liquor licenses.

Today is the second time that Portsmouth voters have been asked about keno. Residents narrowly rejected the lottery gambling in 2019 by just 513 votes. Goss added that it would be “shameful” for the city to once again reject the measure while so many area businesses are financially strained.