Vt. lawmakers to revisit sports betting measures

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Legislature is exploring the feasibility of a new sports betting industry, an activity currently illegal in the state. The renewed discussion comes after projections showing millions in potential revenue.

There’s a renewed push for the state of Vermont to bet big on sports wagering. While past proposals have been put on ice at the Statehouse, a group of lawmakers this summer is revisiting the feasibility of legalizing it, coming up with a fee and tax structure, and deciding what regulations should be in place.

“Different models yield different favorability with the industry, with my colleagues, and with the public,” said Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden County.

A recent 180-page report from the Legislature’s nonpartisan Joint Fiscal Office shows just how much revenue the state could rake in, anywhere from $2-to-$10 million injected into the state’s General Fund.

For years, Vermonters have already been placing their bets by traveling across state lines or wagering through offshore platforms. The Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery would regulate the industry and could put age limits, licensing operators, and setting limits on the amounts and numbers of bets.

“Right now, we are investigating an illegal gambling operation in Vermont where the players have lost tens of thousands of dollars. That wouldn’t happen in a regulated sports betting market,” said Wendy Knight, the department’s commissioner.

The question of whether to legalize sports betting has been kicking around the Statehouse for a number of years. But the measure has not been picked up by the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs. Representative Tom Stevens D-Waterbury, says issues surrounding problem gambling are less visible than problems with drinking. He also says that he wants to make sure all of the known facts and outcomes are out there and that people understand gambling is addictive.

“This is a social proposition that we have to take very seriously,” Stevens said.

The state contracts with the Howard Center to offer gambling addiction services through the state’s lottery system. At least 32 states, including New York and New Hampshire, have approved sports betting. So why isn’t Vermont cashing in? Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County, the outgoing chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, says some lawmakers in the House have been reluctant to deal with so-called vices. “Whether it’s alcohol or marijuana or gambling, some people are more skittish than others,” he said.

Just like Vermont’s cannabis industry, lawmakers have been tackling similar questions of revenue, regulation, and education, and some hope legalization will make it over the finish line next year.

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