You can buy lottery tickets at convenience stores, so why not bars and restaurants? It's an idea the Shumlin administration is looking at.
The games could look like the state sponsored lottery vending machines being used in states like Wisconsin and California. Vermont Lottery officials confirm they are showing a machine to bar and restaurant owners -- already holding one presentation last week in Barre -- with others planned.
The lottery declined to share a picture of the machine officials are showing to business owners but did say it would be a "fast play" game. Bars and restaurants would get about 6 percent of the sales and the rest of the money would go to the state. Vermont Lottery Director Greg Smith says the state is interested in new opportunities, but wouldn't say why the current plan is being shopped around. "The lottery is always looking to expand agent base within our statutory limits... Our statutes tell us what businesses we are able to go into and that includes bars and restaurants," he said.
Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais) chairs the House Tax Committee and says she was surprised to hear about the lottery's efforts. She says lawmakers should not have been kept in the dark about such a big proposal -- even if the lottery is allowed to expand by statute. She wants a legislative review. "Vermont historically has been cautious about the lottery and how much we depend on it and expand it and I think this sounds like an expansion -- putting the lottery in bars and restaurants is new," she said.
The proposal also surprised Bill Keithcart with the Vermont Council on Problem Gambling. He says making tickets available at bars and restaurants will create more addicts. "If you expand into bars I'm more concerned about people who don't have funds -- discretionary incomes that they think they have -- that they are using that money that they could be paying bills. And here they are intoxicated, not making good choices and spending their money," he said.
Just prior to the airing of the story, Greg Smith did call Channel 3 to provide some additional details after we called the governor's office.
Smith said they are just in the early stages of exploring this plan and have no estimates on how much money it would raise. He says the machines would offer existing lottery games similar to the ones already in use in about 100 convenience and grocery stores around the state.
A Shumlin spokesperson said the gambling expansion at this point is just a conversation, and that the administration will get legislative input.