How does the plan compare to New Hampshire?
by Aubrey Weaver, Community News Service
House legislators passed a bill that would legalize mobile sports betting last week, putting Vermont on the road to joining other states in legalizing the practice. And lawmakers don’t just want Vermont to join the club — they’re looking to its neighbors to figure a system out.
One of the surrounding states that legalized mobile sports wagering back in 2019 was New Hampshire. Wendy Knight, Vermont liquor and lottery commissioner and chair of a Legislature-formed sports betting study committee, told the House Committee on Appropriations March 20 that the committee has been “picking their guidance and relying on New Hampshire a lot” when crafting Vermont’s legalization policy.
Charlie McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery and past president of the North American State and Provincial Lotteries, told Community News Service that New Hampshire lottery officials have worked closely with counterparts in Vermont.
“We share a bunch of products together,” McIntyre said. “We’re friends. So I’ve been over there a number of times with (New Hampshire) Governor Sununu’s blessing, talking to them about operations only because I want them to succeed if they do it.”
A key difference between New Hampshire’s sports betting system and the proposed Vermont model is the number of operators — meaning mobile sports betting franchises — allowed to operate within the state. New Hampshire only has one operator, DraftKings, whereas the House bill allows between two and six operators through a competitive bidding process. Those could include DraftKings but might also include similar operators like Fanduel and Caesar’s.
McIntyre outlined the pros and cons of New Hampshire’s one-operator-only system. “If there’s an issue with the platform — there hasn’t been, but if there ever were one — you only get one plan. If it’s down, it’s down.”
Vermont’s multi-operator plan tries to give the state a safety net so that if one operator goes under, it won’t sink the entire sports betting market.
One pro of New Hampshire’s system that McIntyre described: The state isn’t “inundated” with sports betting advertisements because there’s only one operator.
“If you just Google ‘sports betting advertising,’ you’ll see hundreds of news articles around the country where people are tired of seeing a sports (betting) franchise when you just want to read a page of the Boston Globe,” he said.
That topic has proved a sticking point in discussions around the Vermont bill. In the House appropriations committee, the last stop for the bill before its passage, representatives had varied opinions on whether to cap how much the operators could spend on advertising. The debate was not divided along party lines.
Rep. James Harrison, R-Chittenden, called open cooperation between the state and operators “collusion,” whereas Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, questioned from a business perspective “why you would want to cap advertising on a program that you want to be successful.”
Knight, the lottery commissioner, said in committee March 20 the advertising cap as proposed by the House Committee on Ways and Means “unnecessary” given the bill’s requirement for operators to have advertising plans approved by her department anyway.
The advertising cap debate ran out of time in the House, and the bill was passed with the cap included for the Senate to tackle.
Sports wagering is a massive market with significant economic benefits for states. A key driver of legalization is the prospect of tapping into tax revenue from legal sports lotteries as opposed to illicit online markets or out-of-state bookies.
The first year of New Hampshire’s legalized sports betting market, 2020, the state had a revenue share of $2.3 million. Last year that number jumped to $20 million from mobile betting, with an additional $3.2 million from the state’s newly legalized retail sports betting market. Retail, or in-person, sports betting is something Vermont’s legislators might consider allowing pending the success of legalizing mobile sports betting.
McIntyre said he was glad Vermont isn’t looking at legalizing retail sports betting immediately. “It’s very complicated, it’s very labor intensive and it’s not particularly lucrative for physical locations that take sports bets, versus mobile internet,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to do.”
The Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office produced a report on the anticipated financial impact of the bill, estimating that depending on negotiated revenue share (likely between 20% and 50%), Vermont stands to generate between $1.3 and $2.0 million next fiscal year and between $4.6 and $10.6 million the following year.
No one in the debate denies that legalizing sports betting could lend way to problem gambling in Vermont, and the bill puts aside $250,000 for next fiscal year and half a million dollars the next year so the Department of Mental Health can establish a problem gambling program.
“We’re just trying to sort of philosophically do a similar thing here that we did with cannabis when we stood up that program, which is to keep people as protected as much as we can reasonably do so,” said Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Montpelier, during the appropriations committee discussion March 20. “We keep them under state control because we want them to be as safe as they can.”