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Online Gambling in Vermont and Legal Gaming Options

Vermont

Vermont may not have the moral or religious culture that provides for the strong opposition to gambling seen in many states, but it still isn’t a hotbed for gaming activity. Maybe it’s the quiet nature of the state, which has a reputation (much like neighboring New Hampshire) as a rustic, sleepy destination for skiers and those looking for a romantic getaway rather than as a place for hitting it big at a casino resort. Regardless of the exact reasons, gambling is certainly limited here.

As in most states where there isn’t an active gaming industry, there hasn’t been much in the way of a push for online gambling here. However, there have been discussions in the past, and Vermont does have a libertarian lean that has led prominent lawmakers here to oppose a national ban on Internet casinos – even if they have no serious interest in regulating such games themselves.

Lottery is Only Game in Town

We’ll get the biggest news out of the way first: there are no casinos here in Vermont. While there have been a couple of modest attempts to push for a casino, nothing has ever come from these efforts, and there are no Native American resorts either. For those who want to play at a casino, however, there are still options: neighboring state of New York has several casino resorts as does our other neighbor Maine, while more are available in places like Montreal, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

So, what are the options for legal gambling in Vermont? The first form of gaming to be regulated here was parimutuel wagering on horse races. But before you get excited about the prospect of betting on horses, you should know that there is no actual racing in the state: essentially making this law meaningless for the moment, though it could potentially open the door to such activities (or off-track betting) in the future.

The most meaningful addition to the landscape began in 1976, when the public voted in favor of a referendum to establish a lottery. The General Assembly created the Vermont Lottery Commission the next year, and games began going on sale on Valentine’s Day in 1978. Soon, instant scratch off tickets and drawings were available throughout the state.

In 1998, the state took the same step that many jurisdictions have with their lotteries by designating that all profits should go towards education. Today, the small, local games run here are available alongside the massive drawings for multistate jackpots like Powerball and Mega Millions.

Other than the lottery, the only other form of gambling allowed is charitable gaming. However, Vermont is pretty open when it comes to allowing organizations to run such events, particularly considering how little they allow otherwise. Non-profits can run raffles, bingo games, poker tournaments and even full casino nights, provided that they are licensed to do so and that the length of time the games are running (and the size of the potential prizes) is limited.

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Online Expansion Gets a Look, But Not Much Action

Beginning in 2011, Vermont has had a series of talks about the possibility of Internet gaming. The Lottery Commission was the first to hold meetings about the issue, suggesting that they could potentially sell tickets online. Other states were already doing this, and they noted that such activities didn’t seem to cause problems with the Wire Act (something that the Department of Justice would later confirm).

Since then, there have been similar talks from time to time, and a commission was put together to take a look at online lottery sales in 2012. Governor Peter Shumlin was even one of 11 governors to sign a letter that opposed efforts to ban online casinos at the federal level. But despite these inklings of interest, there has yet to be any significant movement on the topic, and at the moment, there is no regulation of online gambling here.

Still, many Vermonters manage to play at online gambling sites each and every day. For operators, the state is a grey market, and they offer their games here even without a regulatory framework. Likewise we have no laws that target players who want to participate in such sites, so individuals can play games for real money without any risk of legal consequences.

Steady as She Goes in State Market

One advantage of having such a small gaming marketplace is that there is little room for drama or controversy. Sure enough, Vermont is operating a pretty stable lottery and has little interest in casinos, a combination that means little will be changing here in the next few years.

There have been a few minor changes recently that could cause some discussion in future. In 2014, the lottery began allowing video terminals to be installed in a handful of bars, the first time locals with alcohol licenses were allowed to have the games. That has been criticized by anti-gambling forces, who question whether the lottery is still operating a responsible organization or if it is pushing the limits in search of bigger profits.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are minor scuffles, and there aren’t likely to be any major changes here in the near future. Online gambling is always a possibility, but it doesn’t appear to be a likely one, at least not until the practice becomes more common in other states. Vermont could still be dragged into the very competitive battle for the Northeastern gaming market, but for now, lawmakers seem content to largely sit on the sidelines.

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