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With a jab at Massachusetts, N.H. ushers in online sports betting

Using the DraftKings phone app, Governor Chris Sununu on Monday placed the first legal sports bet in New Hampshire.
Using the DraftKings phone app, Governor Chris Sununu on Monday placed the first legal sports bet in New Hampshire. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Holding his iPhone for all to see, Governor Chris Sununu on Monday fielded suggestions from the crowd at a downtown sports bar about how much he should bet on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

“I’m the 82nd governor. We’ll do 82 bucks,” Sununu decided, quickly marveling at the $1,000 payout it could earn him. After a few more taps of his phone, Sununu’s wager was in, and the era of legal online sports betting had begun in New Hampshire.

“It’s that easy,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire on Monday became the second New England state, after Rhode Island, to offer sports betting and the 20th state overall. Gambling on sports has exploded since a US Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to legalize wagers on athletic contests. In the Northeast, Maine has legislation pending, and New York has legalized sports wagering.

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The start of such wagering in New Hampshire put in sharp relief the unhurried deliberations in Massachusetts, where lawmakers have been considering similar legislation since January. It remains uncertain how quickly — or if at all — Massachusetts will act. That allows New Hampshire to coax people who want to cast a wager to visit the Granite State — at least for now.

Sounding as much pitchman as governor, Sununu encouraged bettors “to come on over the border.” And New Hampshire officials — who have forecast $7 million to $10 million annually in sports-betting revenue, earmarked for education — acknowledged the benefit of plucking bets from the Massachusetts market.

“The best kind of money is out-of-state money,” said Charlie McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery and former assistant executive director at the Massachusetts Lottery. “So if we can grab more money from out of state, we’ll do that every day. . . . Massachusetts being [the] main driver, one through seven.”

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DraftKings, a Boston company, won an exclusive contract to run New Hampshire’s mobile platform even though the law signed by Sununu in July allows up to five online operators.

Maine lawmakers have also passed legislation to legalize sports betting, though Governor Janet Mills declined to act on it in July, leaving the measure in limbo until lawmakers return to Augusta next month.

Sununu on Monday stressed the opportunities with online betting as the NFL playoffs approach this weekend — not to mention the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 13 and the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in March.

New Hampshire’s law also allows 10 brick-and-mortar sports-book sites around the state, which could be restaurants or entertainment facilities.

Sununu has chided Massachusetts lawmakers for their inaction, saying in October that they “want to ban this and ban that” but take for granted Boston’s place as the region’s economic engine.

“We’re doing it right. We’re taking advantage,” he said Monday. “I’m not going to speak to why the Massachusetts Legislature does anything. God knows. Good luck to anybody trying to figure that one out.”

Massachusetts legislative leaders, however, have been unapologetic about the pace of their deliberations and have declined to put a timeline on a vote. Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat who’s helping to lead the discussions, said he doesn’t think the “horse race” to enact legislation is a driving factor and argued that Massachusetts benefits from seeing the rollouts in other states.

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“Massachusetts is the biggest state in New England, and Boston is by far the biggest market. I think the timeline of who’s first or second is not the most important question to ask,” said Lesser, Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. It’s weighing several bills, including one filed by Governor Charlie Baker in January.

Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, the House chairwoman on the committee, said that “when and if we feel comfortable we have the right piece of legislation,” it would be advanced.

“I understand that a number of states want to rush to the market,” the Gloucester Democrat said. “The real pressure is making sure that when, in fact, something is put forward that it’s the right thing for the residents and taxpayers for Massachusetts.”

That hasn’t stopped Baker from publicly pressing lawmakers, saying as early as March that he preferred a measure to be in place by the start of the NFL season.

On Monday, Sarah Finlaw, a Baker spokeswoman, noted that he filed legislation nearly a year ago and said he “hopes to see the Legislature take up a bill before the end of the session” in July.

In Rhode Island, sports-betting revenue was initially disappointing. The state collected $2.2 million in the last fiscal year; officials had expected more than $23 million. The numbers started trending upward this fall, though, and the state has collected $4.3 million since the launch in November 2018.

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Rhode Island’s experience bolsters the argument of Massachusetts legislators like Lesser who say sports betting isn’t a relative moneymaker.

Baker, for example, estimated in January that his bill would have generated $35 million in taxes and licensing fees in the current fiscal year. That’s a fraction of the $294 million in casino tax revenue the state is forecasting for this fiscal year, even as casino gambling projections, too, have dipped below expectations.

That, however, meant little as Sununu boasted that New Hampshire, where legislators have long rejected casinos, would “own the New England market” in sports betting. He encouraged bettors to drive north. “Don’t forget to stop at our liquor stores,” he added. “We have much cheaper prices than those knuckleheads down in Massachusetts.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com.