Sports betting is not yet legal in Vermont, but lawmakers are studying the issue and beginning to consider proposals for how they would regulate the industry should a bill be passed.

In early 2020, the Senate approved a bill to create a Sports Betting Study Committee tasked with observing legalization measures in other states and considering various licensing models that could be employed in Vermont.

There is still a lot of work to be done before legal sports betting comes to Vermont, but fans do have other legal alternatives in the meantime. Daily fantasy sports and online horse racing betting are both permitted in Vermont and provide a safe, similar alternative to sports betting.

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Vermont Sports Betting

Vermont has been slower to embrace sports betting than many of its neighbors in the northeast, but the state is now on the move.

For two years after the Supreme Court struck down the federal law prohibiting sports betting, little action was seen from Vermont. That is beginning to change, however, and it is clear sports betting is now on the minds of lawmakers.

The Vermont Senate got the ball rolling in March 2020 when it approved a sports betting study bill. S. 59 ordered the creation of a committee to “study various models for legalizing, taxing, and regulating sports betting,” and to look at the benefits/drawbacks of each model. The committee was also directed to study the various impacts of sports betting legalization, including the implications of legalization on tax revenues and problem gambling.

The study bill failed to advance before the end of the legislative session, but did set the stage for renewed discussions during the next legislative session.

Most states that have legalized sports betting to date lean on local casinos to serve as the hosts of retail sportsbooks and licensees for mobile betting, relying partially upon casino operators’ experience with other forms of gaming. Vermont lawmakers will not have it as easy and may need to consider models such as the one employed in Tennessee where mobile sportsbook operators are not tethered to land-based casinos.

Lawmakers also introduced S 213 in January 2020 to legalize mobile sports betting only. The bill failed to make any real progress but did provide a look into what some of the state’s legislators are have in mind when it comes to Vermont sports betting.

S 213 would have permitted mobile sports betting operators to apply for licenses at a cost of $10,000 and to accept wagers on professional and college sports from customers 18 or older. The bill also would have established a tax rate of 10% on sports betting revenues and placed the Board of Liquor and Lottery in charge of regulating the industry.

Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports contests are legal in Vermont due to legislation signed into law by Governor Phil Scott in 2017. Fantasy sites in Vermont are governed by a standard set of consumer protection regulations that include:

  • Minimum age of 18 to participate
  • Employees and family members of employees prohibited from playing
  • Athletes and sports officials prohibited from participating in contests involving their sport(s)
  • The use of computer scripts to gain an edge over other players is prohibited
  • DFS sites must keep player funds in a segregated account
  • DFS sites must submit to annual independent audits
  • DFS sites must register with the Secretary of State and pay an annual registration fee of $5,000

This legislation did not impose a tax on the industry, but instead ordered the Governor’s office to propose a tax structure. Several months after the bill was signed into law, the Secretary of State issued a memorandum that advised leaving the $5,000 fee in place and not imposing any taxes on fantasy operators.

The secretary’s recommendation said Vermont is in line with other states that have passed DFS legislation and sees no reason to impose any new taxes beyond the regular income tax laws any other business pays in Vermont.

Vermont Horse Racing Betting

Parimutuel racing betting is legal at licensed racetracks Vermont, but currently there are no active tracks.

Vermont originally legalized horse racing betting in 1960 via public referendum and accompanying legislation. Green Mountain Racetrack opened for business in 1963 and held horse races until 1977. The track also began hosting greyhound races in 1976, but those came to an end in 1992 and the state outlawed greyhound racing in 1995.

Online Horse Racing Betting

Vermont law does not directly address the legality of advance deposit wagering, but major horse racing betting sites interpret existing law as permitting online betting. Vermont authorities seem to agree as they have never moved to put an end to advance deposit wagering within the state.

Expanded Gambling Proposals

Some Vermont lawmakers have expressed passing interest in evaluating the feasibility of expanding Vermont’s gambling options. Bill H-0781 was enacted in 2013 for the purpose of providing appropriations for the operations of the state government. Included in the bill was an order that the lottery commission study the option of selling lottery tickets online (page 131).

We haven’t heard anything about the VT lottery getting into online ticket sales since then but it does look like a possibility in the future. As of right now, residents only buy tickets in person or sign up for a subscription in which the lottery will automatically enter you into 26, 52 or 104 drawings.

In 2013, representatives introduced H.93 in an effort to legalize one land-based casino in the state. Had it passed, this bill would have given the Lottery Commission the authority to issue one license to a qualified applicant. The licensing fee would have been $5 million and it would have been issued for a six-year term. This bill was ultimately shot down.

Representative Clem Bissonnette introduced H.186 in 2013 in order to establish the “Vermont Gaming Commission” to license, regulate and manage gambling activities within the state. This bill would have allowed for the licensing of poker halls and home poker games. H. 186 never made it out of the Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs where it was introduced.

VT State Gaming Laws

Vermont’s State Statutes restrict most forms of gambling. There is no land-based industry and the statutes do not make an exception for social gambling (such as playing poker with your friends at home).

Online poker and casinos are also prohibited in Vermont. To date, there have been no major efforts to change the legal situation for either form of internet betting.

Lawmakers have discussed giving the state lottery more regulatory power to oversee additional forms of land-based gambling and possibly online ticket sales. If the lottery does eventually get those powers, it would bring us closer to making online gambling a reality.

The good news is other forms of internet wagering are permitted in the state. State laws do not prohibit residents from placing real money bets at licensed horse racing sites and participating in daily fantasy sports contests.

§ 2133 is one of the primary pieces of text pertaining to gamblers. This section explains that most forms of gambling are illegal:

A person who plays at cards, dice, tables or other game for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain, shall be fined not more than $200.00 or imprisoned not more than 60 days, or both.

Interestingly, § 2141 makes it a crime to win or lose money by gambling. This section says that any person who wins or loses money or other valuable thing by play or hazard at any game, or by betting on someone else playing a game shall be fined $10 to $200.

Vermont does allow charitable, religious, educational and civic organizations to raise money via limited forms of gambling. There are a variety of restrictions in place that set limits on how much money can be raised, how much they can pay event organizers and how much money can awarded as prizes to the participants. 13 V.S.A. § 2143 provides all the details for non-profit gaming activities.

Online gambling isn’t specifically mentioned anywhere in the state’s gaming laws but the laws are broad in scope and most likely do make it an offense to participate in unlicensed online betting.