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According to the American Gaming Association, over 23 million Americans planned to bet $4.3 billion on this year’s Super Bowl. Sixty-five percent of those bettors believe it’s important to bet with a legal, regulated sportsbook.

Illegal sports betting is so prevalent across the state and elsewhere in the U.S. because it can be done easily from a computer, tablet or cell phone (the preferred choice). It is estimated that nearly 140,000 Vermonters place close to $300 million in illegal bets through online, offshore companies every year, according to a 2017 report by Oxford Economics. As a result, making a modest bet with a friend or co-worker through an office pool has been replaced with advanced, illicit operations that take bets from outside of the country, making it impossible to not only enforce the law, but also to tax and regulate the activity. These illegal offshore sports betting operations are so sophisticated, some Vermonters have been using them for years, completely unaware that these sites are operating illegally.

The pervasiveness of illegal sports betting here in Vermont raises an important question: why don’t we legalize, tax and regulate it?

Over two dozen states have legalized sports betting or are in the process of it right now. Legal sports betting is taking place in neighboring New Hampshire, New York and nearby Rhode Island. Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut are also considering to legalize it.

A tri-partisan bill I have re-introduced with Senator Michael Sirotkin, Senator Chris Pearson and Senator Rich Westman will generate an estimated $3 million in tax revenue a year. This revenue can fund vital services and programs for Vermonters. The bill will also create safeguards for Vermonters that are currently nonexistent in the thriving illegal market, including the promotion of responsible gaming and ability to exclude oneself or limit wagers and time spent on betting sites. Our framework will also ensure there is a rigorous age verification process – one with a proven track record in other states – to prevent minors from placing bets.

Upwards of 90 percent of wagers in states with legal mobile sports betting are made online because bettors prefer to have the ability to make bets safely from the comforts of their home. And speaking of preference, our framework will give Vermonters a choice between multiple, regulated, operators that will attract them from the many illegal ones available today. Also, legalizing sports betting will present marketing and promotional opportunities for unique events and partnerships between local businesses and sports betting companies.

Vermonters should not go another Super Bowl without the choice of placing a bet legally and safely on the big game. We should shutter the harmful, illicit offshore market, which will continue to flourish if we don’t act, and provide participants with strong consumer protections. We will also collect much needed tax revenue and join a myriad of other states that have authorized sports betting.

Dick Sears, of Bennington, is a state senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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