Sports betting bill once again on deck for Vermont Legislature


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May 06, 2023

Sports betting bill once again on deck for Vermont Legislature

MONTPELIER — This just might be the year that sports betting is legalized in

MONTPELIER — This just might be the year that sports betting is legalized in Vermont.

The issue has been introduced and fizzled out in the Vermont Legislature several times before, but a much more substantial and detailed bill — and the voiced support from Gov. Phil Scott — are preliminary signs that the change may pass this time around.

Bill H.127, which was introduced by Rep. Matthew Birong, D-Addison-3, in the House Jan. 31, cleared its first hurdle in the Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee on Tuesday by a 9-3 vote and has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee.

The 19-page bill addresses many of the previous concerns raised by opponents of legal sports wagering, particularly a thorough outline of how tax revenue will be collected and used — including contributions of at least $250,000 per year to a "Responsible Gaming Special Fund" overseen by the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

"I would say that the piece of legislation that was voted out of the Government Operations Committee was the most thoughtful and robust piece of legislation that either of the legislative bodies have worked on to this point," said Birong.

Vermont is the only state in New England, or the entire Northeast U.S., that has not passed some sort of legislation on sports betting. To date, 36 states and Washington D.C. have already legalized gambling on sporting events, with Florida, Maine and Nebraska being the only states of those that aren't operational as of Jan. 31, according to

If the debate over legalized gambling sounds similar to that of marijuana sales to you, you’re not alone.

"Right now there is a tremendous amount of illegal wagering that's happening on nefarious websites, a lot of offshore activity," said Birong. "So a big part of this is that it's happening anyway, very much like the conversation around retail cannabis.

"We, as responsible legislators, need to take a hard look at how we can put protections in place for people who are engaging in it, and bring it into a legal market with vetted operators."

In addition to pulling users from a black market, the new legislation would make it possible to tax and regulate the new industry, and prop up infrastructure to support Vermonters struggling with problem gambling – infrastructure that currently doesn't exist.

Birong is aware of the concerns of creating a negative public perception that might come along with legalizing gambling in a state that depends on its family-friendly atmosphere and tourism, but sees it as a non-issue.

"It is 100 percent platform. It is 100 percent off the phone. There is no reason for people who don't live here to come here to gamble," he said. "We’re not building casinos, we’re not building brick and mortar or kiosks."

Dr. Kelley Klein, medical director for the Vermont Department of Mental Health (DMH), did cite a 2017 Ohio Gambling Survey that poses a bit of a problem for the app-based gambling argument. The survey found that traditional in-person sports betting led to problem gambling or addiction for 1 in 10 bettors. That figure jumped to 1 in 4 for those using an app.

"(Problem gambling) is something that tends to afflict younger individuals and individuals with significant income," Klein said, later adding that younger people being more tech savvy might also be a factor in that.

Klein also says that the current illegal gambling activity might not be as common as most think.

"It's difficult to access it illegally, actually. These platforms do have fairly good protections in place that can identify VPNs (virtual private networks). There are ways of (getting around) it, but it's complicated. Someone would have to be really motivated to do so."

Birong and Klein both said that besides the illegal gambling activity, however, many Vermonters are just traveling over state lines to New York, New Hampshire or Massachusetts to place their wagers legally, and this is a demographic that is not able to receive help if they are experiencing problem gambling.

Klein stressed that building infrastructure for identification and treatment of problem gambling is the department's top priority as it pertains to the bill that's on the table.

"Getting public health messaging and awareness out there, funding therapists and their training, and also for (therapist) visits," Klein said when asked how the funding earmarked for DMH would be used. "We want to maintain the treatment for this as being free to the public… We don't want to create barriers to getting treatment. And if someone is experiencing problem gambling, they’ve lost their money."

Klein also wants to erase some of the stigma in society around problem gambling, and have it recognized and addressed like any other addiction. She cited another study conducted in 2016 by the National Council on Problem Gambling where 73 percent of respondents attributed gambling addiction to "lack of willpower" and 51 percent to "moral weakness."

"There's a lot of shame and guilt that comes along with problem gambling," Klein said. "We’ve moved past that with all sorts of addictions, but problem gambling hasn't caught up. We don't want that to be the message in Vermont."

Ultimately, the bill has done more to address help for Vermonters than in its previous iterations. The bill, as currently written, will provide 2.5 percent of tax revenue or $250,000 (whichever is higher) towards DMH's programming in the first year, with a jump to 5 percent or $500,000 in the second year. The rest of the tax revenue will be allocated to the general fund.

The bill would grant authority for licensing to the Department of Liquor and Lottery to select anywhere from two to six sports gambling operators. Part of the selection process will be gambling establishments bidding to the DLL on how much of their revenue they will share in tax dollars.

Tory Rich can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ToryRich6