Vermont sports betting bill
Legal Developments

Why the Vermont Sports Betting Study Bill Is Important

It’s easy to overlook Vermont’s role in the U.S. sports betting expansion race.

The second-smallest state by population, Vermont is also one of the few without any commercial, tribal or equestrian gaming facilities. A limited sports betting study bill, the only noteworthy gaming legislation in recent years, still lingers in the legislature.

But last month’s Senate vote to approve the study bill could have a far greater impact on the national market. If one of the most stringent anti-gambling states can approve sports betting, what’s the excuse anywhere else?

More specifically, what’s the excuse for New York?

No, Vermont online sports betting wouldn’t be enough to force online gaming skeptics in New York to change their minds. New Jersey, the third state to take a legal sports bet, now rivals Nevada for the largest online sports wagering market partially from New Yorkers’ dollars. At the same time, New York’s southern neighbor, Pennsylvania, is now the third-largest sports gambling market in the country and is quickly gaining on Nevada and New Jersey’s revenue totals.

Meanwhile, the latest online sports betting rumors mean nothing until Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature is on it. The gaming world has been tripped up far too many times to hope this latest attempt will, finally, pass into law.

Still, it nevertheless raises eyebrows if a state of 650,000 can beat a state of 20 million to the digital sports betting race. And If a sports betting study bill in Vermont is just one domino on the way to full mobile sports betting in New York, then it would still have one of the greatest impacts of any sports betting legislation in the country.

Vermont Sports Wagering Reality Check

To be clear, the Vermont bill is nowhere close to even the potential for a major nationwide impact.

The bill took nearly 18 months to clear the Senate. It will likely take several more months to pass the House (if it does so at all). Lawmakers in Montpelier are also working around the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already altered the 2020 session.

In a best-case scenario, the General Assembly passes the bill this summer, Gov. Phil Scott (a gambling skeptic) signs it into law, and the five-person committee enacted by the legislation presents its report by the end of the calendar year. All 30 Senate as well as all 150 House seats are on the 2020 ballot, so that means a new group of lawmakers would then have to write the legalization vehicle, which then would have to go through the same legislative gauntlet as the study bill.

And just a bill isn’t good enough. The hypothetical legislation would have to allow untethered access, multiple competing operators and competitive tax rates to achieve its potential and make any real impact in Albany or any other statehouse.

Neighboring New Hampshire passed the first part of that test, only to fail when lawmakers granted a de facto monopoly to DraftKings. Tennessee, another state without any land-based casinos, also failed when it imposed the nation’s only payout cap, chilling interest from would-be operators.

Dreams of New York Online Betting

Those are just a few reasons why the industry overlooks Vermont. But its eastern neighbor on the other hand remains, along with California, the main target of sports betting operators’ dreams.

The fourth-largest state by population, New York contains the nation’s largest metropolitan area, most major media outlets’ headquarters and some of the most iconic teams in professional sports. With full statewide mobile (and, critically, no in-person registration mandates), New York would quickly become not just the largest sports betting market in the country, but one of the biggest in the world.

That’s not to mention how this directly benefits Manhattan-based FanDuel, already one of the biggest names in U.S. sports betting. Or how legal New York sports betting could disproportionately influence Wall Street traders, who have already pumped DraftKings’ stock in the first few months after its IPO and would be looking for their next big sportsbook investment.

That doesn’t mean much to Cuomo, the figure that will more or less determine if and when legal mobile sports betting begins in his state. New York is still hurting from the COVID-19 outbreak, with the pandemic’s incalculable costs still unclear. Understandably, sports betting is not at his mind’s forefront.

But to that larger problem, legal wagering could at least help.

As American Gaming Association President Bill Miller told Congress Wednesday, the unregulated, offshore sports betting market is alive and well, despite the proliferation of legal offerings. In New York, that means millions of dollars each month are going overseas when, with his support, part of that money could go to state government coffers.

In Vermont, that much smaller possible tax revenue is still enough for lawmakers to matriculate a legal wagering bill through the statehouse. No Vermont sports betting bill will suddenly cajole Cuomo to follow suit, but it would be embarrassing nonetheless to sit on the sidelines as another neighbor allows residents to place legal bets.

Until if or when that happens, New York’s massive potential remains so great that even the smallest push toward legalization makes Vermont’s bill significant.

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