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Hampton, Seabrook voters asked to OK sports gambling

19th February, 20:27

HAMPTON -- Two Seacoast communities are making a play to be eligible to host one of the 10 brick-and-mortar locations in the state that offer sports betting.

Hampton and Seabrook selectmen are asking voters at their respective March 10 Town Meetings if they want to "opt-in" to allow sportsbook retail locations in their communities. Hampton and Seabrook selectmen were asked to put forth the sports betting warrant article at the request of Ocean Gaming at Hampton Beach and The Brook in Seabrook.

In addition, Somersworth is among the state's cities that have already approved it.

New Hampshire became the ninth state to legalize betting on professional and college sports (with the exception of New Hampshire colleges) when Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 480 in July. The bill authorized online sports betting, which launched in December, and up to 10 retail sportsbook locations, which have not yet been selected.

John Conforti, of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, told Hampton selectmen online sports betting via the DraftKings Sportsbook app has been "quite successful." According to the Lottery Commission, more than 1 million sports bets have been placed in the first five weeks with 36,923 registered users wagering more than $28.6 million.

Now, the commission and its contacted partner, DraftKings, are in the process of expanding sports betting with retail locations. Conforti said only cities and towns that approve allowing a sportsbook retail location will be in the running to host one.

"There are no guarantees that any specific municipality will be getting a location at this point in time," Conforti said. "It is merely the town providing eligibility, that they would welcome the establishment if both DraftKings and the Lottery Commission find one they are willing to partner with."

Conforti said DraftKings will select up to 10 physical locations. It is expected to present specific locations to the Lottery Commission after towns have had a chance to vote on the matter in March.

Cities had the opportunity to take up the question in November. Of the nine that placed the question on the ballot, only Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Manchester and Somersworth approved it.

Conforti said existing charitable gaming facilities in communities that approve sports betting will take precedence in being a host location over new facilities.

According to the state's request for proposal for sports betting vendors, the Lottery Commission stated sportsbook retail locations must be "first-rate entertainment venues with commercially appealing locations, atmosphere and décor."

"We are looking to have (retail locations) up and running by hopefully the first part of this year and then be rolled out one at a time over the next several years," Conforti said.

Local officials believe the retail locations will boost charities that benefit from charitable gaming and generate revenue for education. The Lottery Commission signed a six-year contract with DraftKings, where the company will pay the lottery 50% of gross gaming revenue for mobile and 50% of gross gaming revenue from retail locations to support education.

Officials also believe retail locations will attract business to the area. With the Maine Legislature recently failing to override Gov. Janet Mills' veto of sports betting legislation, New Hampshire remains the only destination in northern New England offering legal sports betting.

Bill McLaughlin, of The Brook, said the charitable casino likes its chances to become a host for one of the 10 retail locations due to its proximity to Massachusetts.

"We think we are in a better position than any of them," McLaughlin said. "Go up 95 and take Exit 1 and take a left and we have facility existing and state-of-the-art surveillance in there."

While Granite Staters can wager a bet using their phone, the only way Massachusetts residents can is by crossing the border as the Bay State currently does not allow sports betting.

McLaughlin said The Brook recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation over the last year. The former greyhound park is now billed as the largest charitable gaming casino in America where you can "live free and play."