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Vermont Begins Debate On Sports-Betting Legislation

February 8, 2023
Responsible gaming measures are the focus for Vermont legislators so far in debate on a sports-betting bill in the state’s House of Representatives, including the minimum age of bettors and marketing of “risk-free” bets.

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Responsible gaming measures are the focus for Vermont legislators so far in debate on a sports-betting bill in the state’s House of Representatives, including the minimum age of bettors and marketing of “risk-free” bets.

House Bill 127 was introduced last month, and would create a model similar to neighboring New Hampshire, in that operators would go through a request for proposals (RFP) process to bid for the right to offer mobile sports betting in the state.

Under the bill, the state’s Department of Liquor and Lottery would select between two and six operators to pay a share of revenue that would be set in the RFP process. The bill does not include any retail component.

The bill closely aligns with recommendations by the Sports Betting Study Committee, which worked last year to craft a legislative roadmap for legislators to follow this session.

The House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs began to discuss the bill last week, and early discussions and testimony have centered on responsible gaming issues.

The initial draft of the bill features a minimum age of 18 for bettors, which would make Vermont one of only six U.S. jurisdictions to allow players under the age of 21, the most common minimum age in the U.S.

Two of those jurisdictions are neighboring New England states, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Much of the discussion centered around typical inconsistencies among minimum ages for different activities, including other gambling activities such as buying lottery tickets, or registering for military service.

“I think there's a lot to process around age, but I am hearing generally that if we see another draft of this bill, there’s probably more support than a simple majority here for moving that up to 21,” said Michael McCarthy, the chairman of the committee.

Another topic of interest to legislators is an ongoing policy conversation regarding the phrase “risk-free” bets in bonus offerings.

Once a common phrase in U.S. sports-betting marketing materials, “risk-free” now appears to be on its last legs, with most of the largest U.S. operators pivoting away from the phrase amid growing concern from state legislators and regulators and rules in other states prohibiting use of the phrase.

Other entities have begun to shovel dirt on the phrase’s grave. The National Basketball Association (NBA) also banned the phrase from its advertising platforms, according to the Sports Business Journal (SBJ).

“We believe it’s a problematic term from a responsible gaming and a problem gaming standpoint,” NBA senior vice president Scott Kaufman-Ross told SBJ. “It’s important that we be clear with our fans that sports betting carries inherent risk.

“The notion that anything in this area is risk-free runs counter to the key messaging and education around sports betting,” he continued. “We just feel it’s the right move for us.”

Problem gambling advocates have consistently spoken out against the phrase as well.

“From a public health aspect, we don't believe there's ever anything such as risk-free, whether or not I'll lose my money or not,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, who testified on behalf of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

In addition, NCPG executive director Keith Whyte said that, to date, the incentives of capturing market share have often come at the expense of following responsible gaming rules.

“The fines are massively disproportionate. I think in New Jersey it's around a couple thousand per violation, and that is clearly a slap on the wrist at best for a multi-billion dollar company,” he said.

Whyte pointed out that recent fines issued by the Ohio Casino Control Commission have been significantly higher than any other state to date.

“I do think part of compliance is that pain, and I think right now, most of the fines do not appear to be truly ensuring compliance,” he added. “Post-Ohio and hopefully post-Vermont, I think compliance will be taken a lot more seriously."

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