With just under 10,000 square miles of land mass, Vermont is the 6th smallest US state, home to the 2nd lowest population of just 626,630 (est. 2013). In direct contrast to the 2nd largest state of Texas, Vermont tends to do everything on a smaller scale, including being the only US territory with no buildings exceeding 124 feet in height. The state is known for its majestic landscape, with vast mountain ranges bordering much of the state, and the Champlain Valley in the northwest. The economy is widely diversified, but most famous for being the highest producing manufacturer of maple syrup in the US. Of all Vermont’s recognitions, there is one thing the state is not known for, and that’s gambling.
The Green Mountain State isn’t exactly a prominent destination for online poker players. They do exist, but with a low population that’s not inherently of the betting mind, there hasn’t been much push for a regulated online poker market from voters in the Green Mountain State. Most forms of gambling are illegal. There’s a state-run lottery, and charitable organizations are allowed to host certain types of gambling, but on a very limited basis. Oddly enough, horse racing is not illegal in Vermont, but no tracks currently exist to offer pari-mutuel wagering. For those online poker players that do reside in Vermont, the question of its legality is a common one; one that we’ll try to answer by examining the history and laws of gambling in the state.
Land-based Gambling in Vermont
With very few forms of legal wagering, the history of gambling in Vermont isn’t a terribly exciting one. Predating the 1900’s, multiple varieties of betting flourished in the area, but the turn of the century brought strict regulations that forbade all gambling in the state. Pari-mutuel betting was the first to be authorized, followed by the grand opening of Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, VT in 1963. In 1976, greyhound racing was added to the menu, and approval for a state lottery was passed into law. One year later, Green Mountain Race Track ceased running horses to become a greyhound-only track, and by 1978, the first lottery tickets were sold.
In 1985, Vermont broke the mold, teaming up with Maine and New Hampshire for the very first joint-venture lottery game in the US. Then, in 1992, with animal rights activist nipping their heels, Green Mountain Race Track shut down altogether, three years before greyhound racing was actually banned in Vermont.
After a 15 year stalemate, the gambling laws were revisited as legislators attempted to get approval for one land-based casino in 2011, but the efforts stalled. Another try (casino bill H-0093) in the 2013-2014 session is likely to end in the same result, having sat in committee since January of last year.
Deciphering the Laws of Vermont as they relate to Online Poker
The Vermont Statutes do not specifically define what gambling is. The following citations are the only evidence of gambling related laws that may pertain to the legality of online poker.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|§ 2133. At gaming house||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 60 days, or both.||Playing poker for money at a gambling house is illegal if anyone stands to profit outside of personal gambling winnings. In effect, social home poker games are not illegal.|
|§ 2135. Gambling machines-Sale, lease or rental||(a) A person, corporation, copartnership or association shall not lease, rent, let on shares, sell, expose for sale or offer for sale:
(3) A machine or device of any kind or nature by the use or operation of which there is an element of chance for the winning or losing of money or other things of value.
|Part (a) of this section does not apply to online poker players, but pay close attention to part (3), as it helps define what constitutes a gambling machine in Vermont. By this definition, a computer or mobile device used to play online poker for real money could be construed as a gambling machine.|
|§ 2136. Possession||A person shall be punished as provided in section 2139 of this title who has in his or her possession, or under his or her control, or who permits to be placed, maintained or kept in a place of public resort or in premises occupied by him or her, or under his or her management or control a machine, apparatus or device as mentioned in section 2135 of this title.||Possession or use of a gambling machine is illegal and punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $100 fine.|
|§ 2141. Winning or losing by gambling||A person who wins or loses money or other valuable thing by play or hazard at any game, or by betting on such play or hazard, or sharing in a stake wagered by others on such play or hazard, shall be fined not more than $200.00 nor less than $10.00.||To win or lose anything of value by participating in any type of illegal gambling activity is punishable by a fine of $10-$200.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Vermont?
Maybe. Playing poker in general, especially if a rake is taken or fee collected to participate, is obviously illegal, but that applies to playing poker in a gambling house, which lacks any form of definition. Traditionally, a gambling house is considered a public place where gambling is known to take place, but the lack of a definition makes it hard to clarify in Vermont. The only law that an online poker player could unequivocally be breaking by playing in their own home is the possession of a gambling machine (§ 2135; § 2136). If convicted of illegal gambling under this statute, the penalty is up to 6 months in jail and/or up to a $100 fine. However, there is no known incident of an online poker player being arrested, much less convicted, for illegal gambling in Vermont.
Is Vermont working to legalize Online Poker?
Yes. This may come as a surprise considering the predominantly anti-gambling stance of the region, but lawmakers have made moves to legalize online gaming in Vermont. A push for online lottery sales is at the core of the matter, but the state has been working to get a single land-based casino authorized since 2011, and the FY2015 Budget Request from the Executive Director of the State Lottery, Greg Smith, cited, “Possible opportunities for growth of Lottery revenues could come from enhancement of current games or the addition of future games, which could include intrastate internet gaming…”
With the topic becoming more and more prevalent with each passing year, it is possible that online gambling could become legalized in Vermont’s foreseeable future. But due to the diminutive population of Vermont, interstate compacts for shared liquidity and player pools with other regulated states would be a must before online poker is considered a viable opportunity.
Online Poker Players from Vermont
Being home to the second smallest population in the country doesn’t leave a lot of potential for uncovering the identities of big-name online poker players, especially when the legality of online poker in Vermont is so ambiguous. We do know of a part-time player, Andrew “yourhoaxed” Kildorf of Battleboro, and the 1979 WSOP Champion, Harold ‘Hal’ Fowler (1927-2000), was born in Vermont.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Vermont