By John Toole
---- — CONCORD – New Hampshire’s Legislature will consider legalizing poker in the home.
A House panel voted, 19-0, to recommend passage for a bill that would permit small stakes poker among friends in the neighborhood.
“This bill legalizes home poker games as long as the ‘house’ takes no rake, no admission can be charged, odds can’t favor any player, there is not a house bank and the games can not be advertised to the public,” Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, said in a report from the Ways and Means Committee to the full House.
House Bill 459 is scheduled before the House during its session on Jan. 8.
“An informal game among friends has been illegal in New Hampshire,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield.
Lambert said it won’t make a difference to players trying to get a game up over the Christmas holidays, but it could be enacted by St. Patrick’s Day.
Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, a member of the House panel, said a lot of people play poker with friends now and may not realize those games are illegal.
“We’re taking an old law off the books,” Azarian said.
After reviewing the issue, the committee concluded there isn’t a problem with these neighborhood games, he said.
“Ways and Means felt there was no issue with that,” Azarian said.
Nor does the proposed change in the law threaten charity gaming, in Azarian’s view.
“This will not impact charitable gaming at all,” he said.
Despite being illegal, Azarian noted police departments don’t raid such games in New Hampshire.
Lambert did say he had invited Litchfield’s police chief over for a game, only to have the chief ask him to drive to Salem to play poker in the charity gaming venue at Rockingham Park.
The chief’s reason, according to Lambert, such a game might be illegal.
“That could be argued under the statute,” Lambert said. “They could come in to arrest you for a nickel-dime-quarter game.”
The favorable committee vote, coupled with the bill’s placement on the consent calendar, means the bill stands a good chance of passing the House, Lambert said.
“That’s a good sign,” he said.
He’s also optimistic about Senate approval.
“Anyone would be hard pressed to defeat that in the Senate,” he said. “This is an enormous win for people who favor poker in New Hampshire.”