Sen. Kevin Mullin’s attempts to sneak pro-gambling language into a pair of unrelated bills has failed, thanks to the efforts of House conferees.
I first wrote about this last week; the day before yesterday, another Vermont media source finally decided to pursue the story. VPR’s Bob Kinzel had more detail than I did — although he focused on one of Mullin’s maneuvers and missed the other. Still, if you want more information, do read his piece.
To recap, Mullin slipped language into a consumer protection bill that laid out consumer protections for daily fantasy sports — an activity deemed by Eternal General Bill Sorrell to be illegal. Which seems contradictory: why regulate an illegal industry? (That’s the one Kinzel missed.) And into the big budget bill, he inserted language that would have allowed the Lottery Commission more leeway in placing electronic gaming machines in bars and restaurants — possibly including Keno and video poker.
The part I failed to catch was that the current gaming-machine pilot program is set to expire this summer. Mullin’s amendment would have removed the sunset and broadened the definition of acceptable machines. His amendment had the support of Lottery Director Greg Smith, who is under pressure to grow revenues.
Which, given the current EB-5 scandal, is kind of ironic. A central problem with EB-5 was that a single agency was tasked with regulating AND promoting the same activity. And here’s the Lottery Commission, regulating AND promoting the same activity. Conflict of interest, anyone?
But I digress.
State Rep. Tom Stevens, an opponent of the Mullin maneuvers, was “pleased” that the conferees removed Mullin’s amendments.
“Gambling–whether it is considered predatory or not–should be discussed over the course of a session, not during the rush at the end of the biennium.”
A reasonable stance, but one likely to be ignored by Sen. Mullin, who has previously tried to backdoor pro-gambling legislation and seems disinclined to air the issue publicly. Perhaps he knows he would lose.
And Smith is eager to continue and expand the gaming-machine pilot program. He’s pretty much maxed out the potential markets for the current array of gambling products. If he’s going to increase the state’s revenue, he’ll have to find other ways to get Vermonters to wager more money.
And he is definitely under pressure. In February 2015, Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck reported on the rollout of the pilot program, and noted that Governor Shumlin wanted to use the money from the gaming machines to keep the financially troubled Vermont Veterans’ Home afloat. Which would seem to be a violation of the Lottery’s stated purpose, to raise money for education. But Shumlin argued that this was “new revenue,” so the schools wouldn’t lose out.
Which strikes me as too cute by half. And dangerous; there are lots of government programs that could use an influx of support, and gambling is a shortcut way of generating revenue. But it makes the state increasingly dependent on gambling.
That’s the problem with sin taxes: they give government incentive to encourage unhealthy or destructive behavior.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lottery Commission and the administration aren’t actively trying to find a way around the pending sunset of the gaming-machine pilot program. After all (per Hallenbeck), the pilot program itself was implemented against the express wishes of the House, which had voted to keep the machines out of bars and restaurants.
But hey, how better to encourage gambling than to get the
suckers customers liquored up?