After several weeks of debate and minor changes, a bill to legalize Vermont sports betting cleared its first legislative committee Friday.
The House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs voted 9-3 to find VT sports betting bill, H. 127, favorable, sending it to the next of at least four more committee stops before a House floor vote.
The vote concluded the committee’s eighth hearing on H. 127 and much discussion of sports betting’s relationship to daily fantasy sports.
Fantasy sports age stays 18
Lawmakers considered changing the legal age to play daily fantasy sports in Vermont from 18 to 21, but on Friday amended the bill to keep the two industries separate. The legal age to bet on sports in Vermont would be 21 under the bill.
“I have a feeling we will be having this conversation about fantasy sports and updates a year from now,” Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCarthy added.
Rep. Lisa Hango lauded the amendment, saying she would have voted against the bill if it changed the fantasy sports age.
Vermont sports betting tax TBD
Under the bill, Vermont would allow up to six online sports betting operators, one of several recommendations outlined in a Vermont sports betting study published in December.
Those operators would pay $500,000 for a license and enter a revenue sharing agreement with the state.
The Department of Liquor and Lottery would negotiate the rate, but Patrick Titterton, a fiscal analyst with the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office, told lawmakers to expect a 50% revenue share. That would be similar to nearby Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
That could generate $4.6 million in the state’s first year and $10.6 million annually once the market matures, Titterton added.
Problem gambling funding could change
The state’s problem gambling fund is directed 5% of annual tax revenue. That amount can be no less than $250,000 in fiscal year 2024 and no less than $500,000 in each following year, under language added to the bill Wednesday.
Those could change if the revenue sharing rate is lower than the 50% Titterton anticipates, the fiscal analyst acknowledged.
“I wanted to acknowledge the irony of using revenue from gambling to fund gambling addiction help,” Rep. Chea Waters Evans said before voting for the bill. “[That] doesn’t seem great but, it seems in a way like the plane has already taken off. I would hope as the process continues there are ways to make sure those issues people are having are assisted and contained as much as possible.”
Protections a priority for Vermont sports betting
Most of the committee’s conversation in favor of Vermont sports betting centered on adding protections for those already gambling on offshore and illegal websites.
“I think we’ve done some good work here to provide some safety consumer protection. We’ve been thoughtful about moving the age to 21 and been pretty thorough for our policy areas of jurisdiction,” McCarthy said.
Rep. Kate Nugent was the only lawmaker who voted against the bill to comment before voting.
“I’m not convinced from what I’ve seen that it’s going to be, on the balance, better for people than worse,” Nugent said.
In the past, sports betting bills to pass the committee have moved next to the House Committee on Ways and Means.