House conferees close the gambling back door

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.

Mullin craps out.

Mullin craps out.

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?

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3 thoughts on “House conferees close the gambling back door

  1. nortryder

    Is that the same as having Ron “the rat faced weasel” Hubert R-Milton and liquor store owner on the Liquor Control committee? Hey I can’t get a liquor license in Milton!

    Reply
  2. Robert Haskins

    One power duo you don’t read much about is Vermont Lottery Director Greg Smith is husband to Vermont Tourism Director Megan Smith. Megan, after being ousted from her seat in the VT House, landed the tourism gig early in Shumlin’s tenure, her husband somehow had the winning numbers to land the lottery gig. Between the both of them pulling down a couple hundred grand plus benefits. Good work for those who can get it.

    Reply
  3. Brooke Paige

    Gambling is the Devil’s Playground – With Vermont Political Lowlifes Firmly in Control !

    Not to sound too preachy but state sponsored gambling is still gambling. Whether the proceeds go to education or the veteran’s home (or Shummy’s pocket) – to a large degree it has come from folks who can ill afford to be “spending” is on a pipe dream of statistically impossible sudden wealth. Too often the money wagered should have gone for the rent, the groceries, the car payment or the Pampers.

    I am sick of hearing it’s not so bad because it goes to a good cause. As to the business of gambling, the gangsters and gambling professionals provide far better odds and bigger payouts than the State-sponsored games. Worst of all the State’s desire to shake as much cash out of their citizens pockets has developed or participates in five interstate big payout games, dozens of “scratch off” instant games and discovered that they could sucker their players to play more often by having multiple drawing for their intrastate daily numbers ! Now it appears that the gambling machine program will become permanent and in be available not only at every bar and restaurant but sooner rather than later at every Jiffy Mart and Cumberland Farms. All of this gambling eventually reaches the tipping point of diminishing returns where large investments in equipment and commissions fail to provide additional sales and the net proceeds are lost to overhead.

    The pretense that the money “goes for the children” is all but fiction as a significant portion goes to pay for marketing representatives, government functionaries plus the healthy fees paid to INTRALOT, the international (Greek) firm that operates the lottery computer system for the state. Those who have been keeping track will remember all of the intrigue when Scientific Games, the prior system contractor from Georgia (the U.S. State), was squeezed out in a sketchy deal where the specifications were changed during the “bidding” process resulting in an apples v. oranges deal with Billy Sorrell running cover for then Lottery Commissioner Alan Yandow.

    Everything the state does winds up with the seal of inappropriateness firmly attached, especially when there are a few political dollars to be had – just wait until they decide that casinos are the best new investments for all those EB-5 suckers!

    Reply

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