Online gaming bill would support 2-year college tuition

Jan. 25—CONCORD — Legalizing online betting could generate enough profit to offer free tuition for income-eligible New Hampshire students to attend two-year colleges here, advocates said Wednesday.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said he patterned this bill (SB 104) after the 2019 legislation he authored that legalized sports betting.

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

Under the bill, the Community College System of New Hampshire would administer a scholarship fund to give tuition, books and fee support for any in-state student whose family income is low enough to qualify for a federal Pell Grant.

"We can quickly get a skilled workforce into New Hampshire," Lang said.

If adopted, New Hampshire would join about half a dozen states that permit their residents to bet online.

But a leading lobbyist warned this expansion would cannibalize profit currently made from the 13 casino-style businesses that run games that benefit New Hampshire charities.

Peter Bragdon, a former Senate president, represents Churchill Downs, which owns gambling businesses in 12 states including the Chasers Poker Room in Salem, the state's largest charitable gaming venue.

Bragdon said "brick and mortar" gaming parlors have been hurt in other states that made online bets legal.

"We think it's too soon to pursue another dramatic change in New Hampshire and instead we support a study of online gaming," Bragdon said.

Currently no recourse for online betting scams

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

These residents playing in online Texas Hold'em or other Poker tournaments have no recourse if gambling operators cheat them out of their winnings, said Rebecca London, government affairs manager for DraftKings, the sports betting vendor in New Hampshire.

"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 ensure we have the funds to pay our customers."

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, endorsed the legislation and said it complements his own bipartisan bill (SB 153) to recruit and keep first responders in New Hampshire by reimbursing them when they take college courses.

"There is clearly some symmetry here," Watters said.

Watters said both these ideas would likely be part of the debate as lawmakers put together the next two-year state budget this spring.

Dr. Mark Rubinstein, community college chancellor, said policymakers in 30 states are moving towards free tuition for income-eligible students at two-year schools.

"Cost is still a barrier here and we hope that can change and this bill can make a significant contribution," Rubenstein added.

klandrigan@unionleader.com