Vermont senators have begun tinkering with legislation that aims to bring online sports betting sites to the Green Mountain State.
The Vermont Senate's economic development, housing, and general affairs committee began its work Wednesday on House Bill 127 by making several amendments regarding advertising, operator fees, and problem gambling. Senators voted H.127 out of committee with the changes by a margin of 4-1.
Those tweaks and the bill overall — which would authorize legal sports betting through mobile apps and sites — will eventually require the approval of the broader Senate. If H.127 remains amended, it will also require approval by the House of Representatives, which already passed the bill and supports the legalization of Vermont sports betting.
“This will be a success if you pass this,” Wendy Knight, the commissioner of the Department of Liquor and Lottery, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We will put those procedures in place, we will maximize the revenue to the state.”
State of play, or lack thereof
Vermont is the only state in New England that has not legalized sports betting. However, lawmakers have been inching toward changing that fact over the past year, including via a study committee that turned in a report near the end of 2022 recommending the state legalize event wagering.
H. 127 was introduced in late January and passed by the House on March 24. It received its first reading in the Senate on March 29 and went to the chamber's economic development committee.
The legislation would put legal sports betting under the watch of the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery, which would use a competitive bidding process to select two to six operators of mobile sportsbooks to take bets in the state. Bookmakers would have to turn over a share of the revenue from sports betting, and that cut cannot be less than 20% of adjusted receipts.
Bettors will have to be 21 or older and physically located in the state to wager. Sportsbooks will also be able to offer a wide variety of betting markets with a few exceptions, such as a ban on taking action on Vermont colleges unless they are playing in a tournament like March Madness. Credit cards will not be allowed to deposit or make bets.
No cap, for real
The tweaks made by the committee on Wednesday include striking out a sentence requiring regulators to establish a process to allow a joint bank account holder to exclude the account from online sportsbooks. There was concern about possible problems from the provision and assurances given that regulators already had the power to address such issues.
“We have the ability to put the safeguards in place with the procedures that is much easier to change than coming back once a year with a General Assembly that has a multitude of issues,” Knight said.
Another change was removing a part of the bill that put a cap on the amount the liquor and lottery department and operators could spend on sportsbook advertising in the state.
“We will make sure that we are following your intent, which is to maximize revenue and to reduce harm,” Knight said. “So we will make sure that the advertising plans of the operators do that.”
Sportsbook operators will be required to pay an annual fee in Vermont, the amount of which will depend on how many operators there are. One amendment approved by the committee on Wednesday was to hike those fees so that if, for example, there were two operators taking bets in the state they would owe $412,500 a year instead of $275,000. Meanwhile, if there were six operators, the annual fee would be $320,833, rather than $125,000.
Knight told the committee the increase in the annual fee reflected the fact that it would take more time and money to regulate multiple operators. The committee also amended a part of H.127 regarding problem gambling so that there would be fewer specifics for the state's Department of Mental Health, which would still promote public awareness and provide education about gambling addiction, as well as alert the public to problem gambling assistance programs.
Another change made by the committee was to ensure a funding mechanism is in place for the mental health department’s problem gambling program after the 2025 fiscal year. H.127 now mandates that 5% of annual sports wagering revenue received by the Department of Liquor and Lottery will go to the program in each fiscal year following 2025.
“We thought it was an oversight from the House,” Knight said.