New Hampshire Online Poker Legal Framework

New Hampshire is but a speck on the globe, ranked the 46th largest (or 5th smallest) state in the US and the 42nd largest (9th smallest) by population, home to 1,323,459 (est. 2013). It does, however, have one of the highest median household incomes, partially attributed to the fact that there is no general sales tax or personal income tax imposed in the Granite State. The local government makes up for this by taxing other things, such as property, dividends and charitable gambling. But online poker hasn’t made its way into the realm of regulated, taxable resources just yet.

The gambling laws in New Hampshire are quite strict, and always have been. That’s not to say that they are clear and precise by any means. If anything, it’s their succinct ambiguity that prohibits so many gambling related activities. Due to an elongated lack of updating, however, the question still remains as to whether online poker is illegal in New Hampshire. As is the case in many states, if the government fails to address online poker directly, the activity may fall into a grey area of the law.

Land-based Gambling in New Hampshire

New Hampshire made its first move to legalize gambling in 1933 with the authorization of pari-mutuel betting on horse races, which led to the grand opening of the famous Rockingham Park that same year. Charitable bingo and pull-tabs were legalized in 1949, and in 1964, New Hampshire broke the mold by being the first in the US to offer a state-run lottery. Greyhound racing was added to pari-mutuel tickets in 1971, and in 1977, the Granite State finally chose to legalize poker and casino gambling, but only on select games, and for charitable purposes only. All charitable gambling is taxed by the state, much like the lottery, and must benefit a charitable organization that has applied for, and been approved for, such charitable fundraising.

There are several charitable poker rooms licensed in New Hampshire, including the latest offering at Aces & Eights Poker Room, located inside the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, which opened its doors in June of 2014.

Deciphering the Laws of New Hampshire as they relate to Online Poker

The legalities of gambling are found in the New Hampshire Revised Statutes, Chapter 647: Gambling Offenses. You can browse the full text by using that link, or read over the laws that may apply to online poker below. A brief interpretation is supplied for each definition.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
647:2 Gambling I. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if such person knowingly and unlawfully:
(a) Permits gambling in any place under the person’s control.
(b) Gambles, or loans money or any thing of value for the purpose of aiding another to gamble.
(c) Possesses a gambling machine.
Gambling in New Hampshire is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are often classified as Class A if violent in nature, or Class B if non-violent. Therefore the penalty for gambling is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,200 fine (no jail time).
II. For purposes of this section:
(d) “Gambling” means to risk something of value upon a future contingent event not under one’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that something of value will be received in the event of a certain outcome.
(e) “Gambling machine” means any device or equipment which is capable of being used to discharge money or anything that may be exchanged for money, or to display any symbol entitling a person to receive money.
(g) “Unlawfully” means not specifically authorized by law or not solely for amusement, without stake or possibility of gain or loss.
Gambling is not defined by an element of chance, but rather wagering anything of value on any contest not under the bettor’s control or influence. Whether poker falls under this definition or not is unclear. A poker player can certainly influence their chances of winning.
If poker can be defined as gambling, a computer or mobile device used to play online poker for real money could be classified as a gambling machine.
Any form of gambling that is played for financial gain, and is not authorized by law, is thereby unlawful.
287-D:1 Definitions II. “Games of chance” means any game involving gambling as defined by RSA 647:2… A game of chance follows the same definition as gambling, found in RSA 746:2 (above).

Is Online Poker Illegal in New Hampshire?

Maybe not. The laws surrounding gambling in New Hampshire are highly ambiguous, and do not refer to the presence of ‘chance’ except in the definition of “Games of chance” under of 287-D:1, which simply refer the reader to the definition of “Gambling” in Chapter 647-2. The key element here is the description of gambling, which must include wagering something of value on a contest that is not under the “control or influence” of the person betting. Any Texas Holdem player knows that they are able to influence their chance of winning or losing based on the decisions they make – betting, bluffing, folding, raising, etc. But whether a judge would agree is a moot question. For now, it would seem that online poker falls into a grey area of the law in New Hampshire, not being specifically legal or illegal.

Is New Hampshire working to Legalize Online Poker?

Not yet. A lot of legislative gambling initiatives hit the table in 2014, but they were mostly to the expansion of land-based gambling in New Hampshire, which is still a good sign for the future of online poker. The most encouraging is HB 1556, which would amend the definition of gambling under RSA 647:2 with an extra sentence following the current text that would read:

For purposes of this section, card games of poker shall not be considered gambling and shall be considered a game of skill, meaning the influence of a player’s skill on the outcome of the game is greater than the influence of chance.

The bill passed the House by a wide margin of votes on February 6, 2014, but has remained in stalemate ever since.

HB 459 was a particularly beneficial measure for poker players designed to expressly legalize home poker games, which currently fall into a grey area of the law, but it was killed in April. Several others bills designed to enhance New Hampshire’s gambling regime stalled in the 2014 legislative session, including HB 1628, which sought to establish a gaming regulatory committee.

In the long run, the favoritism towards poker being labeled a game of skill and obvious the desire for gambling expansion in the state eventually points towards a positive outlook for online poker regulation in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, Senator Kelly Ayotte has put all of her weight behind the Sheldon Adelson-backed Restoration of America’s Wire Act, which would create a blanket ban of online gambling throughout the US, going so far as to shut down the current iGaming markets in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. She is just one Senator, but her influence could extend the timeline for a regulated market in the Granite State several years down the road.

Online Poker Players from New Hampshire

New Hampshire is a small state, and the legalities of online poker aren’t clearly defined, thus there aren’t a lot of identifiable players from this region of the United States. Those we do know are professional poker players Michael “bigguylegend22” Drummond, Joe “tacosontilt” Hanrahan and Ed “bigsoxfan05” Buker.

Land-Based Card Rooms in New Hampshire

Charitable poker games have really caught on across the Granite State. There are currently 7 licensed facilities offering live poker action in New Hampshire.

Aces & Eights Poker Room @ Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
Location: Hampton, NH
Poker Room: Yes

Gary’s Restaurant & Sports Lounge
Location: Rochester, NH
Poker Room: Yes

Lakes Region Casino
Location: Belmont, NH
Poker Room: Yes

Manch Vegas Poker Room
Location: Manchester, NH
Poker Room: Yes

Ocean Gaming
Location: Hampton, NH
Poker Room: Yes

The Poker Room
Location: Hampton Falls, NH
Poker Room: Yes

The River Card Room
Location: Milford, NH
Poker Room: Yes

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