With Vermont $178 million in the hole, a state lawmaker from Milton and several colleagues are going "all in" with a new revenue scheme: legalized casino gambling.
H.131, introduced just today, proposes to require the state lottery commission to issue one casino gaming license. Under the bill, the casino would pay the state $5 million for the license, plus 10 percent of adjusted gross receipts. The cost to apply for the license would be $50,000.
"With the budget constraints that we have in Vermont, there's always ways to look for ways to bring in revenues," says Rep. Ron Hubert (R-Milton, pictured), the chief sponsor of the bill. "Constituents talk about how there are all kinds of bus trips from Vermont to surrounding states for casinos. It piqued my curiosity about how much revenue Vermont is losing to other states that offer this."
Does this bill stand a chance of passing? Don't bet the House on it. House Speaker Shap Smith tells Seven Days, through a spokesman, "I do not support casino gambling," though he declined to explain why.
But a bipartisan group of sponsors are pressing ahead. Hubert's bill has 16 co-signers. (For the full list, click the link to the bill, above). The legislation would permit one "casino enterprise," defined as the casino itself, plus "any bar, restaurant, hotel, cocktail lounge, retail establishment" or other facility connected to the casino. The laundry list of games specifically permitted by the bill include: faro, 21 monte, roulette, keno, bingo, fan tan, twenty-one, blackjack, seven and a half, Klondike, craps, poker, chuck a luck, Chinese chuck a luck (dai shu), wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, baccarat, pai gow, beat the banker, panguingui, slot machine, any banking or percentage game, or "any other game or device approved by the commission."
So, pretty much everything — except "games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game except as a player."
Hubert says that based on his research of casinos in neighboring states, he estimates that Vermont state government could rake in upwards of $200 million a year from a single casino. Hubert suggests the proceeds could go to the state education fund, like lottery revenues do, which he says could reduce reliance on property taxes to fund schools. He also believes it would create good-paying jobs, claiming wages would be $14 to $25 an hour for dealers and other casino floor workers.
"I certainly don't want [Vermont] to become Atlantic City, but at the same time, if we have a large number of people in this state that enjoy that," it should be considered, Hubert says.
Hubert is co-owner of Middle Road Market in Milton, a licensed state lottery outlet. Last year, the store sold a $1 million winning lottery ticket, he says. Personally, Hubert says he spends maybe $4 a week on a Powerball or Megabucks ticket ("If I play, I'd like to win the big one.") but hasn't been to a casino since 1972 when he worked as a bus driver in Atlantic City.
Hubert says Vermont already has state-sanctioned gambling — in the form of the state lottery — and believes a casino would be a lucrative new source of tourist money. The $5 million license and $50,000 application fee are meant to weed out less-serious developers, he said.
"We do not want John Q Public running the casino, obviously," says Hubert. "We're looking for someone who would have knowledge and would be running a business well within the realm of being successful."
And where would said casino go? Would Rut-Vegas finally live up to its name? Is Hubert eyeing his own district?
"I am not personally looking to open a casino myself," says Hubert. He says one "location" has already spoken to him after catching wind of the bill, but Hubert wouldn't name it.
According to a 2010 report by the American Gaming Association, Vermont is one of 13 states without some form of legalized casino gambling — either state-sanctioned, riverboat, race track or tribal gaming. In desperation, more and more cash-strapped states legalized gambling in recent years but the recession has meant fewer gamblers, and thus less revenue for those states. (Click Download Aga-sos-2010 to read the AGA's report.)
According to a search of the Legislature's website for the word "casino," Vermont has seen lots of casino legislation is past years, including failed attempts to permit "railroad casinos" in 1993-94, to prohibit dog racing while permitting casinos in conjunction with horse betting in 1995-96, and a bill to study casino gambling that same biennium.
Is Hubert worried about a casino attracting crime and grime? Not really.
"In earlier years, that's probably something that took place," he says. "It's a business. If you pick the right operators, it would be run properly. We have some excellent zoning laws that would prevent seedy places popping up around [the casino]."
What about the potential for casinos to prey on the desperate, or addiction-prone?
"I understand that," Hubert says, "but don't we have to look at personal responsibilities? Are we looking at a few, or looking at the majority?" He says the lottery commission already partners with services like Gamblers Anonymous for those who "overindulge."
The bill has been forward to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs for consideration.