It’s been widely assumed, and now it’s a fact: There will be an attempt to legalize online sports betting in Vermont this year. The expectation became reality on February 2 as state representative Matthew Birong introduced House Bill 127, which would create a legal framework to permit sports betting through between two and six online providers, while ring-fencing some of the profits to go towards harm mitigation. The bill is expected to pass, but will face some scrutiny and hurdles before it can enter law.
Birong explained that the intent behind the bill was to ensure that Vermont natives could bet safely in a way that enshrined consumer protections and allowed for the collection of tax revenue. At present, betting does take place in Vermont, but is entirely in the purview of underground unlicensed bookmakers. The new bill would allow for betting to be officialized and practised by state residents in a way which would cut out the illegal market.
A preliminary headcount indicates that Vermont lawmakers are broadly in favor of permitting betting in the state. At this stage, that’s as confident as we can be about whether or not the bill will pass, but the strength of feeling is behind the sense that, because Vermonters travel out of state – particularly to New York and Massachusetts – to place bets, legisilators would prefer to keep that money in Vermont. In addition, locals who placed bets with Vermont betting sites would be in a better position to access the help that has been afforded by the state.
The bill has bipartisan support. As well as being presented by Democrat rep Birong, it is also cosponsored by nine other congressmen – six Democratic, three Republican. The House of representatives has 150 lawmakers within it, so there will be a need to gain the support of at least half of those, but opposition to the bill has so far been minimal both in terms of the number of people arguing against the legalization and in terms of the strength of their opposition. In the main so far, any objections have been limited to asking what the safeguards in the bill will be.
At this point, the bill is largely a draft document, with some details still to be covered. These include the tax percentage which will be taken from betting proceeds. Given that the draft bill seems to be largely based on the one that was passed in Massachusetts last year, it would not be a surprise to see the Green Mountain state follow its neighbor in instituting a 20% tax rate on betting proceeds.
The next step for the bill is to pass in front of the House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs – which is headed by Birong – and assuming that it clears this hurdle it will then become a more fleshed-out document, ready to be debated in the house chamber. One way or another, we will know more about its chances of passing and becoming law by the time Spring rolls around.