Posted on: June 15, 2020, 01:15h.
Last updated on: June 15, 2020, 10:19h.
When the Vermont state Senate convenes on Tuesday, it may give a final vote on a bill that would create a committee to examine how the Green Mountain State could legalize sports betting.
Senate Bill 59 received unanimous support after its second reading in the Senate during its virtual session Friday. The bill is now on the agenda for a third and final reading when the legislative body next gathers.
State Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), the bill’s primary sponsor, told his colleagues that Vermonters are either going across state lines to make bets, or doing it through offshore or illegal methods.
If we want to move sports betting to a legalized, regulated, and taxed approach, we need more information about the real-world track record of this activity and our own analysis of different ways to structure a taxed and regulated system,” he said.
The bill calls for a panel consisting of the state’s Attorney General, the Commissioner of Liquor and Lottery, the Commissioner of Taxes, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, two state senators, and two house members to review laws passed and models enacted in other states. State officials may designate a staffer to serve in their place. The group would review tax structure and possible limitations on what kind of sporting events could be offered to bettors.
The report would be delivered to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs by Dec. 15.
On Friday, state Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) asked if sponsors considered adding an addiction expert to the panel, as well as someone representing Vermont’s colleges. Hardy and Sirotkin said they may discuss whether the panel would consider problem gaming before the third reading.
Regarding college sports, state Sen. Dick Sears Jr. (D-Bennington) said lawmakers were told prohibiting all college sports would lead to many people continuing to bet through unregulated markets. It’s possible, though, the state could ban betting on Vermont colleges and any junior-level events.
Sears and Sirotkin also sponsored another sports betting bill in the legislature this year.
New Hampshire Changes Projections
When Sirotkin initially filed his bill last year, it stated that sports betting could generate between $1.1 million and $4.2 million in annual tax revenue. However, during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said revenues could be as high as $15 million, based on the New Hampshire model.
That figure dropped by Friday, when he told the full Senate the state could see up to $10 million.
New Hampshire, Vermont’s neighbor, approved sports betting last year. Regulated by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, the state released an RFP seeking sportsbooks to enter the market. While New Hampshire could have offered contracts to multiple vendors, officials eventually chose DraftKings to be the exclusive provider. That’s after the Massachusetts gaming technology company offered a 51 percent of gaming revenues if it was only online and retail company.
Vermont ranks as the second-smallest state in terms of population, with approximately 625,000 residents. As Virginia recently passed legislation allowing casinos, it’s also one of nine states remaining that do not have commercial or tribal casinos, or laws in place permitting them. Currently, the only legal forms of gaming available are charitable gaming and the state lottery.
Damien Leonard, an attorney with the Vermont Office of Legislative Council, told the committee Wednesday that the review panel would likely consider three ways the state could offer sports betting. Those options include allowing online gaming, allowing kiosks in bars or other merchants, and allowing the state lottery to operate it.
“There is no sort of common model at this point. Every state has its own twist,” he said, adding that 22 states and Washington, DC have passed sports betting laws.
Not So Fast, House Leader Says
While it seems highly certain the Senate will pass the bill, its chances in the House aren’t nearly that certain.
Online news site VTDigger reported Friday that the chairman of the House Committee that would receive the panel’s report isn’t keen on sports betting. State Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) said he wouldn’t say no just yet, but he also isn’t sure there’s a need for expediency either.
“I don’t know if this is the right time for it. At a time when many Vermonters are losing their jobs or just on the edge, precariously financed. And when sports aren’t being played, I’m not sure this is something we need to consider too quickly,” he said.
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