Vermonters could soon no longer be the odd ones out among their neighbors. A bill that would create a regulated system for legal Vermont sports betting has cleared the state’s House of Representatives, heading to the legislature’s upper chamber for similar scrutiny.
While the fate of H.127 in the Senate is uncertain currently, the terms of amendments that House members added to the bill could influence that. The amendments seem more conducive than detrimental to agreement, however.
House approves Vermont sports betting bill
On Friday, the full Vermont House voted to approve H.127. The floor vote came a little more than a week after the Vermont gambling expansion bill cleared a third committee. The bill’s success in that number of committees suggested it would see a similar reaction in the larger body.
Through the three committees, 24 of the 151 members of the House (almost 16%) had a chance to weigh in on the measure to legalize sports betting in Vermont. Only four of those members voted against the legislation in that time.
The House approval gives the legislature nearly two months to iron out a consensus between the two chambers. The current session in Montpelier ends May 19. There are still some pertinent matters to address.
For example, even the amended version of the bill does not specify a tax rate. Additionally, the bill is silent on the matters of whether online sportsbooks can deduct any promotional play from that taxation and whether they have to utilize official data sources to settle bets.
The legislature could opt to let regulators decide those matters. While doing so might behoove approval now, it could create issues down the road. Existing amendments seem less likely to cause problems, though.
Amendments increase problem gambling provisions
The original version of H.127 mentioned a Responsible Gambling Special Fund. However, the language around that fund was minimal. It merely stated that the Vermont Dept. of Mental Health would use it to provide services for people with compulsive gambling issues.
Amendments added to the bill since have expanded on that language. The new sections include:
- Setting a minimum contribution of 5% of annual sports wagering revenue or $250,000 in 2024 and $500,000 each year thereafter, whichever is greater
- Directing the Dept. of Mental Health on how to use the money
- Mandating the Department present an annual report to the legislature “summarizing the programs and activities”
There is other new language pertaining to other matters. For example, the bill now bans colleges and universities in Vermont from advertising sportsbooks on their property. Similarly, sportsbooks may not “advertise in a manner that targets the areas of a college or university campus.”
Whether the Senate or a conference will address other issues like a tax structure remains to be seen. Members of the state’s Dept. of Liquor and Lottery, which would be charged with overseeing legal sports betting, would probably prefer they do so.
If the legislature leaves it up to them to adjudicate those matters, it will mean more work for the department staff. Additionally, enacting such terms in the regulations instead of the statute potentially opens the door to legal challenges.
For the moment, however, Vermonters 18 years of age and up should be encouraged. They could soon no longer have to visit Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or New York to place legal bets on sporting events.