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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Gambling Machines In Bars? Vermont House Folds The Idea

The state Lottery Commission would like to raise more revenue by installing new gaming machines in bars and restaurants.

The Vermont House said no to the idea. But now the commission wants another chance in the Senate. 

This fall, Lottery director Greg Smith floated the idea of putting newly designed gambling machines in a limited number of places that serve alcohol in the state.

But key lawmakers told Smith to hold off until the Legislature had a chance to review it and the House doesn’t like the proposal at all.

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, is a member of the House General Affairs committee. The panel voted unanimously to prohibit the Lottery Commission from placing any of their machines in bars and restaurants. Stevens says the plan goes beyond the original scope of the Lottery.

"Can we increase profits from Lottery play while retaining what the original crafters of the legislation called the dignity of the state?" Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens opposing the Lottery Commission plan to put gambling machines in bars

“Mr. Speaker H 575 addresses the interesting crossroads upon which the lottery sits,” said Stevens. “Can we increase profits from lottery play while retaining what the original crafters of the legislation called the dignity of the state or what we might call today the Vermont brand?”

And Stevens said it’s a big mistake to mix gambling and alcohol.

“But we are also fully aware the sales of lottery tickets can lead some players to addiction,” said Stevens. “And that mixing this kind of addiction to an establishment where another substance we sanction, alcohol, can also be enjoyed but also lead to addiction.”

Lottery Director Smith is disappointed by the House vote. He says an informal survey of bars shows that there’s interest in this plan and he wants to conduct a pilot test in perhaps 25 establishments.

“The lottery is interested in putting these out there because they give us a chance to get into venues that we are currently not in,” said Smith. “But most of that is because we haven’t had a product or a vending machine that has been compatible or interesting to the bar operations until now.”

And Smith says the commission will work very closely with bars to ensure that the machines are being used appropriately.

“We fully expect these to be in the view of the people running the bar or restaurant and they’re not going to be tucked in a corner or down the hallway where the bathroom is,” said Smith. “They’ll be in full sight and they’ll be able to go over and shut them off if somebody is misusing it or somebody underage is looking at the machine and trying to operate it.”

The measure will now be reviewed by the Senate Economic Development committee. Smith says he’ll encourage the panel to reject the legislation in the coming weeks.