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Vermont House approves online sports betting bill

Vermont gambling news

The Vermont House of Representatives passed House Bill 127 to legalize sports betting in the state on Friday after agreeing to several amendments to the bill in a late Thursday meeting.

The widely anticipated bill went straight to a vote with no prior discussion on the floor and was passed nearly unanimously. This is the first time in Vermont that a sports betting bill has been passed out of the chamber.

After its approval, the bill will legalize sports betting in Vermont and allocate a portion of the gaming revenue to cater to the expected increase in problem gambling. The state is entitled to at least 20% of the sports betting operators’ annual adjusted gross income.

Under HB 127, all operators will be required to pay an annual operating fee which changes depending on the number of entities in the gaming market. For one operator, Vermont will receive $550,000; however, the amount per operator will reduce to $125,000 if there are six.

The bill will allow a maximum of six mobile sportsbooks and a minimum of two to be granted licenses that will be acquired through a competitive bidding process. The operators will have to pay $275,000 for the licenses, which will go directly to Vermont’s general fund. Each year, a minimum of $250,000 will be allocated to the Responsible Gaming Special Fund.

HB 127 permits placing bets on professional and college sports; however, in-state college teams can only be wagered on when competing in tournaments. The measure does not include any form of in-person retail gambling.

HB 127’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Birong, stated that a lot of work had gone into the bill for the last few years. He also expressed hope that the Senate would consider HB 127 thoughtfully, pointing out that the committee had been much more accepting of sports betting than the House.

The Department of Liquor and Lottery will be the sports betting regulator if HB 127 is passed. Licensed operators will be required to enter into negotiated revenue-sharing deals with the department. A sports wagering fund will be created to provide a place for the department to deposit revenue and fees collected from the regulators.

Birong proposed stricter penalties for individuals and companies that breach Vermont’s online sports betting rules. For a first violation, sports betting operators will be fined $25,000; the figure will increase to $75,000 and $125,000 for the second and third violations, respectively. The regulator also retains the right to terminate the operator’s license if required.

“After taking testimony on how other states’ fine structures weren’t sufficient to deter nefarious behavior that is seen as a cost of doing business to some folks, I felt like we needed to escalate (the penalties),” said Birong.

There is also an amendment from the House Committee that requires the state to reach an agreement with the sports betting operators concerning the maximum amount to be spent on gambling advertisements.

Every New England state besides Vermont offers mobile sports betting, including New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. While Maine has not launched its sports betting market, the activity went live in Massachusetts earlier this month in time for March Madness. The state currently has six sportsbooks, including Caesar’s Sportsbook, Barstool Sportsbook, WynnBET, BetMGM, FanDuel, and DraftKings.

Senate Bill 105, which is similar to HB 127, is currently in the Senate and moving past the committees. Vermont’s Legislative session will come to a close on May 19.

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