Road Trip: Catching Cards on the Booming New Hampshire Poker Scene

September 17, 2021
Road Trip: Catching Cards on the Booming New Hampshire Poker Scene

When people think of New Hampshire, ski resorts, hiking, and maple syrup may come to mind. But the Granite State has a booming poker and casino economy fueling large local charity groups. 

Most of the time, big tournaments and flashy casinos attract headlines and attention. Even though I’m a resident of the northeast (New Jersey), until recently I was unaware of the growing poker scene in New Hampshire.

A few months ago, the New Hampshire Poker News Forum Facebook group came on my radar. The group’s members were friendly and said there was plenty of action at the tables worth checking out.

There are active poker rooms and weekly tournaments across the state. A poker road trip seemed in order.

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Poker in New Hampshire

Venturing north offers plenty of opportunities to hit the tables. New Hampshire currently has as many legal poker rooms open as New Jersey and Pennsylvania combined.

With only 1.3 million people, many may be surprised to learn the Granite State has 10 poker rooms available with full tables running every day. Legal poker rooms currently open to the public include:

  • Boston Billiard Club & Casino – Nashua
  • The River Casino – Nashua
  • The Brook – Seabrook 
  • Chasers Poker Room – Salem
  • Concord Casino – Concord 
  • Keene Casino – Keene 
  • Lakes Region Casino – Belmont
  • Lebanon Poker Room – Lebanon
  • Northwoods Casino – Berlin
  • Manchester Poker Room & Casino – Manchester

Due to dealer shortages and COVID protocols, the northeast is lacking poker tournaments. Because of that, I found myself with a free weekend and a game plan in mind.

After reaching out to some poker buddies, my friend Joe Samero said he was on board for a gambling road trip to chase some action.

We planned to head to New Hampshire and hit a different casino each day. After doing research, we learned these weren’t typical casinos like Atlantic City or Las Vegas. For players used to glamour, glitz, and exploding volcanoes, New Hampshire is quite a bit different.

What these casinos lack in attractions, they make up for it in player friendliness and fun environments with good promotions. These are small establishments that are regulated by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission (NHLC).

One unique element is that each casino has to donate 35% of their proceeds to local state charities. In 2014, the New Hampshire governor signed a law allowing for charity casinos to obtain a license and operate.

Properties offer games such as poker, bingo, roulette, blackjack, lucky 7 machines, raffles, and now sports betting.

Hitting the road

With a limited number of days, Joe and I decided to hit four poker rooms during a long weekend trip. After driving six hours, we made our first stop on what we dubbed as the “New Hampshire Poker Tour.”

Day 1: The Brook Casino and DraftKings Sportsbook (Seabrook, NH)

We arrived in a downpour. Joe laid eyes on The Brook, turned to me and said sarcastically, “Where are you taking us?” There were no flashy LED signs, loud music, or promotional billboards that most gamblers have grown accustomed to. 

The Brook looked like an abandoned warehouse from the outside. But as the cliche goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and the venue housed a nice 25-table poker room.

Nice tables and a private cage welcomed players with multiple television screens to watch sports. A bathroom right in the poker area is also always a plus. There was also a bar located in the room but was closed on the night we were there.

As we played, a group of teenagers walked through. Rules in Atlantic City and Las Vegas often bar people under 21 from walking casino floors. After inquiring with the dealer, I learned players only have to be 18 to gamble in New Hampshire. The casino’s motto is “Live Free and Play.”

The poker room offers high hand promotions every other hour and had a bad beat jackpot as well. The casino also has the best sportsbook in the state, partnering with DraftKings to build NH’s first official book. The facility includes:

  • VIP seating
  • Over 100 large TV screens 
  • Private cage and betting stations

One of the goals on the trip, besides trying to win some money, was to eat well. Joe and I planned not to rely on online reviews for meals. Instead we’d engage in conversation at each poker table and find out about dining options from some locals. Being near the shore, seafood was an obvious choice.

Multiple players recommended Brown’s Lobster Pound. We ordered some lobster at a reasonable price. However, we thought the clam strips and lobster bisque were bland.

Over the next few days, a lot of locals said Petey’s Summertime Seafood would have been a better choice.

The $1-2 game was profitable, a foreshadowing of my weekend. At The Brook, I cashed out for $777 from my $200 investment.

Day 2: Boston Billiards Club & Casino (Nashua, NH)

Friday’s game plan was to hit Boston Billiards. On the way we stopped at a locally recommended breakfast place in Merrimack called Tucker’s. Homemade blueberry pancakes with New Hampshire’s own maple syrup on top was the perfect play for the morning.

Boston Billiards features 20 poker tables and has a $1,500 high hand bonus from 12-1 pm to open the action each day. We arrived before 11 am and were quickly reminded we weren’t in Atlantic City. There was a waiting line to get into the casino. 

In the Live Free or Die State, casinos aren’t open 24 hours. Doors open around 11 am and gaming concludes at 1 am. The poker room is at the back of the billiards hall and spreads No Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha daily. 

The “bomb pots” at every dealer change were a fun highlight. In a bomb pot, every player throws in $5 as an ante pre-flop. Then the dealer goes straight to the flop, except two boards run out instead of just one. Each board plays independently and the pot gets massive quickly. 

The poker room offers monthly multi-flight tournaments that sell out. Players can preregister for these tournaments ahead of time by visiting the casino. A tournament series wasn’t taking place the weekend we were visiting. Casino manager Kevin McMahon gave us a tour of the venue.

“The poker room opened in November of 2016,” McMahon says. “One of the great things about this casino is that we have been able to raise millions for charity.”

Joe and I met a lot of friendly players at the casino and our interest in local restaurants continued. Our second day dinner pick was courtesy of local player Alicia Costa of Nashua, who recommended Fratello’s on Main Street for Italian food.

Costa gave a great recommendation and picked a winner. The food was delicious and hit the spot after a long day of grinding on the felt.

Day two was my only losing day of the trip. I invested $300 in a $1-3 game and ended up down $135 for the day.

Day 3: Filotimo Restaurant & Casino and DraftKings Sportsbook (Manchester, NH)

Locally known as the “Manchester Poker Room,” Filotimo is the largest poker room in The Granite State with 30 tables. Manchester is home to the biggest weekly tournament on Saturdays.

We were told in the Facebook group to arrive early, and by the time registration opened there was a line wrapped around the bar.

The tournament allows for about 80 entries before alternates start. Due to the blind structure, it doesn’t benefit the player to become an alternate. My advice is to arrive early. More information on the Saturday Tournament 60/60/60:

  • 2 pm start with registration opening at noon
  • Alternates allowed until break 
  • $60 buy in plus $10 buy-in bonus for a 30,000 starting stack
  • One rebuy and add-on allowed of $60 each
  • 20-minute levels

Before the tournament started we met with some regulars waiting in line. One was a player I’d seen before in my travels named Frank “Skullman” Harrington.

“New Hampshire players are some of the nicest players you will ever meet,” says Harrington, who lives in Manchester. “This place also has great food for a casino.”

We took his advice and decided to indulge. The casino prides itself on offering the best Greek food in the state. After eating some traditional dishes, I was impressed.

During lunch, we also caught up with floor manager Tony Bantis to get some perspective on the expanding casino.

“We are working on some new things and constantly expanding,” says Bantis, a Manchester native.  “We have been operating for over eight years and the poker room expanded in September of 2020.”

Overall the NLHE tournament was a lot of fun and I finished 10th. The $300 cash secured a $120 profit for the day.

Day 4: Chasers Poker Room and Casino (Salem, NH)

On the final day, the 15-table Chasers Poker Room and Casino was the final destination for the trip. As we pulled up, we saw an old Kmart across the street – sparking about an hour of nostalgia conversation.

Later we learned Chasers is looking to take advantage of the old store space. According to players, Chasers is considering a move into the old shopping center.

Most New Hampshire poker rooms allow online registration early on the Poker Atlas app to save a seat. Luckily I did because we arrived eight minutes late and the entire room was full by 11:08 am Sunday morning.

Chasers looks like an old German ski lodge and pub. When this came up at the poker table, I was informed the casino was previously a Chinese restaurant.

Chasers had some of the best promotions in the state, especially on Sundays. Promotions included:

  • $10,000 bad beat jackpot
  • Quadzilla – an hourly progressive for hitting quads
  • Royal flush bonus
  • Hourly high hands

Chasers is the closest poker room to Boston, Massachusetts, and sees a large influx of players coming from Beantown. 

“Since Boston Encore didn’t reopen their poker room, a lot of players come up here to play,” says Bernie, a regular from Massachusetts. 

Bernie also recommended a stop at MaryAnn’s Diner next door before heading home. The retro 50s-style eatery was top notch.

Chaser’s was the most profitable day of the trip. I invested $300 in $1-2 NLHE and cashed out for $1,192.

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Heading home

Overall we had a great trip and realized New Hampshire has some of the most cordial players in poker. In the four-day trip, not once did we see a player berate a dealer or cause a scene with another player.

The other positive aspect was helping to indirectly raise money for charity. Before COVID, the NHLC reported over $9.1 million raised for state charities in 2019.

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