Vermont Casinos and Gambling

Vermont is one of the least-populous and smallest American states. Its largest city, Burlington, is home to just under 50,000 people. Three-quarters of the state’s tiny land mass (smaller than the island nation of Jamaica) is covered in thick forests.

Vermont is best-known as the maple syrup capital of the world. If none of these facts call gambling to mind, you’re not alone – the state is devoid of casinos.

Vermont is surrounded by states with some form of legal gambling – new markets are opening up all the time in New York and Pennsylvania, not to mention the East Coast gambling mecca of Atlantic City just a short car trip away. But neither commercial casinos nor tribal groups can operate within the borders of Vermont. Most Vermont resident travel to New York or Massachusetts to gamble.

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Gambling Options in Vermont

You can’t play a legal hand of blackjack or put a dollar in a slot machine in Vermont, and that’s a bummer. But is there any form of legal gambling in The Green Mountain State?

The most convenient alternative to driving out-of-state to play a few hands of poker is to find an online casino that offers the games you like and does business with Vermont citizens. The state of Vermont does not have an express prohibition against Internet gambling, and provided you aren’t placing bets on sports, no federal law exists making online gambling illegal.

What about other legal ways to wager?

The Vermont lottery is the main form of betting inside state lines – it was established in 1977, as part of the first wave of American lottery games that swept New England decades before it hit big in the American south. Vermont citizens can play Powerball, Mega Millions, Megabucks Plus (a Tri-State game), Lucky for Life, Gimme 5, Pick 3, and Pick 4 games. Vermont approved scratch cards in the 1980s, and they’re a big part of the lottery scene in the Green Mountain State. A fun wrinkle in lottery law prevents anyone under 18 from buying a lottery ticket, but allows them to receive the tickets as gifts and collect winnings from them.

Charitable gambling is allowed under strict conditions. If the entire proceeds of a game are going to a charity, it is probably legal. Vermont has a special exception or charity bingo games that allow the handing out of small prizes. Raffles are also explicitly allowed, as are Vegas Night and Poker Night charity events – that provision is not common outside of Vermont. The minimum age for all participants is 18, and the host of the event can’t be earning any profit in the role as host.

The only legal poker games in the state take place at charitable events. An interesting wrinkle here makes all private games of poker legal, since the state’s penal code is otherwise entirely silent on the subject.

Pari-mutuel betting is allowed on licensed tracks, except for a provision making such races illegal on Sundays before 1 PM. Strangely enough, no live tracks are operating in Vermont at this time, and the state doesn’t allow for remote (off-track) betting. Though live race betting is legal, it seems like there’s not enough interest (or enough of a local population) to support a track.

Are Vermont Casinos Legal?

No, in the state of Vermont casinos are not legal. But unlike other state that seem to explicitly go after the providers of illegal gambling, the state of Vermont has some specific fines in place for people caught in the act:

“A person who plays at cards, dice, tables or other game for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain, shall be fined not more than $200.00 or imprisoned not more than sixty days, or both.”

$200 is small fine, a light misdemeanor on par with a simple act of littering – but the language makes it seem like the state is happy to pursue charges against illegal gamblers. Other fines and penalties are in place for individuals who violate parts of the state’s gambling law.

Let’s look at a few more important pieces of Vermont law related to gambling:

The definition of gambling in the state of Vermont is tricky because there is no specific definition of the term (or of the terms “bet,” “wager,” or “gamble”) in the state code. What lawyers do in this case is to piece a definition of the word together from the language that does exist.

I pulled this piece of language from Vermont code Section 2133, a law that makes it illegal to play games of “…cards, dice, tables or other game for money or other valuable in a common gaming or gambling house that is maintained for lucre and gain.” That would be pretty clear if the state also defined “gaming” and “gambling house” – which it doesn’t. Vermont earns some style points for using the word “lucre,” though.

Here’s another piece of legislation – Section 2141 of the Vermont code says that those who win or lose anything of value “by play … at any game” or by “betting or sharing in the betting on same” shall be fined, though it doesn’t mention a specific fine. What’s important here is the language which suggests that what is criminal about the act is the betting itself, not the game or the activity. Vermont law frowns on staking something of value against another event.

Maybe that’s why the state of Vermont has criminalized the possession a “gambling instrument” in Section 2134 and also the sale or rental of “gambling machines” in Section 2135 without ever defining those words. A slot machine is pretty obviously a gambling machine, but is a poker table a “gambling instrument?” The law is unclear. Because of that lack of clarity, I consider Vermont one of the least gambling-friendly states in America.

Conclusion

Vermont is home to a small population that would probably prefer it stay that way. When your capital city is home to fewer than 8,000 people and your main expert is a difficult-to-harvest and niche market condiment, it’s probably no surprise that casino gambling isn’t high on your list of priorities.

Then again, the state is rife with potential. New England visitors love gambling – that’s clear from expansion efforts in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. Tourism is already a big industry in this tiny state – why not amp it up a bit by opening a couple of already-legal race tracks and throwing in some slot machines and table games to boot? For now, online casinos, a surprisingly-active lottery system and loose laws on social and charitable gambling are the only options for Vermont citizens who want to place legal wagers.

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