N.H. has allowed sports betting since 2019. A committee is studying Vt.'s appetite to make it legal here
For football fans or folks who just tune in for the commercials (between flipping to the Puppy Bowl), the NFL's top teams will face off in the Super Bowl on Sunday. And even if your team didn't make it to the big game, you might be tempted to make a friendly wager.
In Vermont, however, sports betting isn't legal. But in 2020, a legislative committee was created to study legal sports betting in the state.
Chittenden County Sen. Michael Sirotkin serves on that committee.
"The study language we put in last year's bill is an exhaustive study of all jurisdictions that have embarked in this area," he says. "They all do it in slightly different ways. They all tax in slightly different ways. They provide certain protections."
After the report's completion, Sirotkin says the committee will "see if we can add the time this year to enact legislation to make perhaps Vermont the 33rd state to do this."
Sirotkin says sports betting is already happening in Vermont — just on the black market. He says there are an estimated 140,000 Vermonters currently betting illegally on sporting events.
Sirotkin says concerns like unregulated sites are driving the desire to legalize sports betting.
"There's just no real enforcement mechanism right now and we have no consumer protections over these illegal sites," he says. "We can't control the age of betting. We can't make sure that the payouts are not improper or that payouts even happen."
Making sports betting legal in the state, Sirotkin says, would ensure proper enforcement and added revenue.
And Gov. Phil Scott has repeatedly said he supports sports betting. He says it could bring in money for housing and child care.
But most of our neighbors have already legalized sports betting. That includes New Hampshire.
VPR's Mary Engisch spoke with Charles McIntyre, the executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Engisch: New Hampshire launched its online platforms at the end of 2019. COVID slowed things down; games weren't being played. But games are being played now, and betting is up and running. What does that bring in, in terms of tax revenue, for the state of New Hampshire?
Charles McIntyre: Since we launched, we've net $30 million to the bottom line, which goes to the education trust fund. Throughout the U.S., the most profitable sports betting applications, we'll say, are all ones run by the lottery. So our model was essentially to have the profitable entity be the state. So that's how it's operated. And that's how we run it. And I think it's done very well. It exceeded our expectations, the revenue — dramatically.
So $30 million in tax revenue, just from Dec. 2019 to now. And online sports betting, are there any downsides that you can talk about?
You know, knock on wood, there have not been any issues related to criminal elements, or money laundering or all kinds of things that people feared. So my background, I was a former organized crime prosecutor from outside Boston. I knew sports betting from the prosecutor's side. It's funny because I thought I knew sports betting before because I had prosecuted many, many times.
How is New Hampshire helping folks who experience an addiction to gambling or those for whom online sports betting becomes problematic? Then a second part of that question: has there been an uptick in folks accessing help for sports betting addiction during the pandemic?
It's not been high. If you look at the literature, you'll see that about one and a half, maybe 2% of the folks who gamble have a problem with it. And how problem is defined sometimes varies, but that represents the number of folks who are accessing services in the state.
And it's a small number, but obviously, these folks at our call centers are trained individuals. If they hear problems, they are addressed immediately. So for example, someone says, "I can't lose any more money," their account will really be suspended. And we'll have a conversation with them. Also, the mobile platform allows them to self exclude, which hundreds have done in the state — said, "I don't want to play anymore." And we respect that 100% of the time. So there are tools that allow us to do it more than just hand out pamphlets.
What might you share with the Vermont folks who are considering legalizing online sports betting?
Go into it slow, with options available, is the best way to describe it. Particularly retail is a far more complicated than you would understand. Opening up a retail sports book is the equivalent of opening up a somewhat large-scale bank in terms of money flow, and the controls and their surveillance requirements are significant. So it's a very expensive proposition.
It's expensive for us to regulate. It's worthwhile to be sure, but it's expensive. The folks who are telling you something, understand that they usually have an agenda. We have a very large investigative and audit staff that visits these places frequently. And we audit every facility, at least annually. Our investigators are all ex-police; our auditors are all trained auditors — financial people. And so it's a lot of money that we’re keeping track of and it has to be done well.
As of yet, online sports betting is not legal in Vermont. Is that stopping people?
I can tell you now with a certainty approaching death and taxes that there is sports betting in Vermont, significantly. It's just done not legally. And so the issue still exists, regardless of who regulates it. Having the state sort of like repatriating those funds, allows us to identify it, notice folks who have a problem and address them.
If you or someone you know is experiencing problematic gambling, you can find free resources at the Vermont Problem Gambling site through the Vermont Lottery.
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