Taking a gamble with sports wagering

The big bill in front of my committee right now would legalize online sports wagering in the state of Vermont. As we hear testimony from people from different industries and perspectives, my thoughts on the bill have changed from, “Why on earth would we ever do this?” to “I understand how this could be a good idea.” I’m still not 100 percent yet, though.

The Sports Betting Study Committee had members from various legislative and commission backgrounds: Wendy Knight, the commissioner of the Department of Liquor and Lottery, chaired the committee, which also consisted of Christopher Curtis, designee for the Office of the Attorney General; John Gortakowski, designee for the Department of Taxes; Chris Winters, designee for the Secretary of State; Tayt Brooks, designee for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development; Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale; Sen. Dick Sears Jr.; Rep. Carol Ode; and Rep. Matthew Birong.

The committee’s final recommendation was to legalize online sports wagering in Vermont. Their rationale was that people are crossing state lines to place these bets anyway (we’re surrounded here in Vermont by states and a province that allow it), so the revenue would be better supporting our own state budget, plus we would have our own consumer protection laws in place.

I didn’t know there was such thing as a geofence — basically, there’s an electronic “fence” around the state that prohibits Vermonters from logging into gambling sites and apps. A study showed that there were about 18,000 attempts in a year to do so, so it seems like Vermonters are certainly trying to get online and bet. The problems that lead to a need for consumer protection come up when people try to get around the geofence and use illegal, offshore and unregulated sites. I think we can all agree that it’s a terrible idea to fork over your bank account information to an illegal gambling website.

Honestly, though, I still feel kind of gross about it. I worry about addiction, about adolescents somehow getting access to these sites even when the legal age will probably be 21, and about the societal repercussions. I’ve been known to put a couple bucks down on the Kentucky Derby, so I understand the fun of it, but I also have seen how devastating a gambling addiction can be for a family.

A sizable chunk of the tax revenue that comes into the state from sports wagering would go to funding gambling addiction assistance and mental health supports, which actually don’t really functionally exist in the state right now. As it’s written, the law would also allow for people to self-exclude themselves from the gambling sites, essentially having the ability to ban themselves from betting. I joke that we need a self-exclusion policy for the cookies in the State House cafeteria — but the reality is that once a person realizes they’re not in control, they can remove the temptation permanently.

The legalization of sports betting has been compared to the legalization of cannabis: by bringing it above board, it offers regulation and stability that protects consumers. It will leave my committee for the Senate over the next week or two.

So, in the meantime, how do you feel about it? Are you excited to potentially be able to place bets on next year’s Super Bowl? What are your concerns? I’d love to know everyone’s thoughts, and if you’re interested in reading more about it, here’s the link to the study committee report.

As always, please reach out with thoughts, questions, opinions, concerns or 917-887-8231.