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Regulations block use of sports betting app near NH/Maine border
15th January, 01:25PORTSMOUTH -- The introduction of sports betting in New Hampshire has come with an unexpected blunder in one of the state's most popular tourist destinations.
Anyone within approximately a half-mile of the Maine border cannot place bets on the DraftKings app, an area encompassing a significant portion of the city of Portsmouth's downtown, and all of its waterfront establishments. The restriction also impacts the Tri-Cities, including most of downtown Somersworth, which saw sports betting as another tool in its revitalization efforts.
While New Hampshire became the second New England state to offer sports betting at the end of December, Maine Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill last week that would have legalized it in the Pine Tree State.
The New Hampshire Executive Council in November approved a six-year contract with DraftKings to operate sports books. The state will receive 50% of sports betting revenue, and the wagering is expected to produce an estimated $7.5 million for education in fiscal year 2021 and $13.5 million two years later.
Currently, users near a "permitted border area" cannot place bets on the app. In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said, "Ensuring that everyone, anywhere in New Hampshire, can place a sports bet is critical and the Lottery Commission and DraftKings are on this issue to make the experience as seamless as possible."
Bethany Hayes, owner of TJ's Food and Spirits on Daniel Street, said her customers quickly discovered the discrepancy, so she reached out to DraftKings and the Lottery Commission for guidance.
"Our identity and such a large portion of my income is sports-related," Hayes said. "Sununu said if you are in New Hampshire, you can place a bet using the app. There was no mention of limitations."
When Hayes contacted DraftKings customer support, she received the response: "Your location data indicates you are near a permitted border area which means that you will need to move further into the state of New Hampshire to place wagers. I understand that this may be frustrating, however, this is how we must operate per state regulations."
E.J. Power, spokesperson for the New Hampshire Lottery, said the lottery and DraftKings are working to troubleshoot any issues customers have faced since the rollout.
"Since the launch of sports betting on Dec. 30, the response has been overwhelming, with tens of thousands of players wagering millions of dollars," Powers said. "We want to ensure that eligible customers within New Hampshire's borders can easily access our app and participate. The NH Lottery is working closely with DraftKings to troubleshoot any issues customers have and encourage those who have experienced technical difficulties to contact them at email@example.com."
Jennifer Aguiar, vice president of compliance and risk for DraftKings, said they are aware of a "few isolated instances in which customers have had difficulty placing online wagers while physically located in New Hampshire near a neighboring state's border."
"We take our responsibility to ensure that only eligible New Hampshire customers place bets on DraftKings Sportsbook very seriously," she said. "In order to verify that all online sports betting wagers in New Hampshire are occurring within the state's borders, we employ a suite of sophisticated geolocation technologies that utilize a multitude of inputs to identify the location of a customer."
The isolated instances, Aguiar said, are often the result of a mobile phone's signal pinging a tower outside New Hampshire, and is usually an intermittent problem.
"We actively monitor these incidents and encourage any customers who encounter this problem to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org."
Hayes noted Portsmouth is the state's largest contributor in rooms and meals tax, so for the sports betting app to be inaccessible in a good portion of its downtown would be a missed opportunity. Portsmouth officials have said city businesses pay approximately $26 million to $27 million in rooms and meals taxes each year.
Hayes and some of her patrons made a list of more than 25 dining establishments and hotels within a half-mile of the Maine border.
And Hayes is worried it would negatively impact her business, as patrons may decide to watch games elsewhere, where they can place bets on their phones in real time.
"It's a big deal and for us, that's why we pay for NFL Sunday Ticket," Hayes said. "Fantasy is a huge thing and the legalization of sports betting does cast a wider net of what people will watch. If people have a little bit of money on a game, it's more interesting."
Rylan Mitter-Burke, TJ's longtime bartender, said he can't place bets from his apartment on Market Street. "This border is hugely populated," Hayes said. "(This problem) is to my detriment. I just want to know how to solve it basically."
Hayes hopes the issue can be ironed out before the NCAA's March Madness, where for the last 10 years she's had the same group of 100 men take off work and come to watch the first day of games.
The restriction could similarly affect residential and commercial areas in Dover, Rollinsford, Somersworth and Rochester.
Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard said it's potentially troubling for his community because local leaders are looking for every edge and strategy possible to spur economic growth and redevelopment.
"Every state shares a border with another state. That's part of being part of 50 united states," said Hilliard. "Just like everyone else in a sport has to play fair, I think the state of Maine has to play fair when it comes to commerce and legalized activities (in New Hampshire)."
Hilliard expressed worry the half-mile restriction could also cause operators of physical sports book locations, which the state authorized along with mobile sports betting last year, to bypass the Hilltop City.
"This is legal," Hilliard said, adding sports betting could be big in Somersworth, given the city has the highest Keno sales in the state. "If someone in Berwick (Maine) wanted to cross over the border and participate in something that is legal in the state of New Hampshire, what's the harm in that?"
Patrick Kelly, co-owner of Stripe Nine Brewing Company, which operates a taproom and pizzeria at 8 Somersworth Plaza in Somersworth, said he doesn't believe the restrictions will have any implications for his business or the customers who might go there to watch a sporting event.
"Honestly, from our point of view, we don't see any impact, positive or negative, and we're not trying to promote anything in that particular area of entertainment," said Kelly.
Reporter Kyle Stucker contributed to this story.