VT Senate Doesn’t OK Sports Betting, But Is Down For A Gambling Study

Written By Derek Helling on June 18, 2020 - Last Updated on June 16, 2020

One of the two legislative bodies in Montpelier is curious. The Vermont Senate approved a bill to commission a sports betting study last Friday.

House members appear to not be so inquisitive, however. If the House doesn’t concur with the upper chamber of the VT Legislature, that would be a net positive for the New Hampshire Lottery.

A Vermont sports betting study hanging in the balance

The prospect of legalizing sports betting in Vermont appears to have two powerful proponents in the state government. VT Gov. Phil Scott included money from legal wagering in his budget proposal.

Then last Friday, the VT Senate approved S. 59. That measure does not regulate and tax sports betting in Vermont but rather forms a committee to study the impact of doing so.

In the bill’s current language, several state agencies and officials would have representatives on the committee. It would include people appointed by:

  • The attorney general
  • The secretary of state
  • The state tax commissioner
  • The liquor and lottery commissioner
  • The head of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development

The bill does not impose a time limit upon the committee for completing the study. It also pays little attention to defining the scope of exactly what the study should entail.

There’s an upside to that broad language, however. It affords the committee the freedom to address specific concerns that legislators raise about legalizing sports betting in the state.

It would also, in theory, allow the committee to hold onto the study until the conditions are favorable for the actual passage of a legalization bill. That doesn’t appear to be the case in the VT House right now.

VT House concerned about problem gambling, college sports

Members of the lower chamber of the VT Legislature don’t seem to be enthusiastic about concurring with the Senate on this bill. Different representatives have cited different reasons.

Among them is the lack of a representative on the proposed committee representing problem gambling treatment programs and a similar voice for the impact of legal wagering on the college sports industry. Rep. Tom Stevens voiced another concern:

“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.”

Stevens’ voice is a crucial one because he chairs the General and Military Affairs Committee. Stevens indicated he is open to considering S. 59 if it comes to his committee but added he personally opposes legalizing sports betting.

If proponents can push it through the House, it’s likely Scott would sign it. That would represent the most serious threat to the New Hampshire Lottery’s unrivaled offering of online sports betting in the far northeast in months.

A contender or just another pretender?

Since Maine failed to override its governor’s veto of a bill that would have legalized sports betting in that state in February, none of the three states that border New Hampshire have made a serious attempt to undertake that effort. A Massachusetts bill failed after it was effectively shelved amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even if the House does approve S. 59, there’s still no telling how long it would take to complete the study. That would also be no guarantee that VT would actually legalize wagering on sporting events either.

For the foreseeable future, DraftKings will continue to pull visitors to the Granite State for sports betting. The instance of Vermonters crossing the border may actually be part of the study if it ever occurs.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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