Back in June, legislators in Maine overwhelmingly okayed LD 554, a bill that aimed at giving federally recognized tribes in the state the mandate to operate casinos. However, when the measure was forwarded to Governor Janet Mills, she vetoed it hours before it passed into law without her signature. Instead, the governor sent the bill back to the drawing board on June 30th and called on legislators to work on the bill some more as many of its components were inconsistent with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Now, on the same day that Gov. Mills shot down LD 554, another bill, LD 1352, meant to legalize mobile sports betting across the state, was approved in the House. This was the first of three crucial legislative hoops that the bill needed to jump before finally becoming law. What was left after House approval was a thumbs up in the Appropriations Table and the Senate. From there, it would go to Gov. Mills for her signature before it can come into effect.
But then, like LD 554, the last time that the governor received a sports betting bill on her desk, in January 2020, she vetoed it. So, lawmakers had to go back and address matters about responsible gambling, as Governor Mills had pointed out in January last year. Legislators played ball and sent the LD 1352 after fixing its shortcomings and sent it to the Appropriations Table. However, 20 days after the legal sports betting was passed on to the Appropriations Table, Maine’s Senate adjourned for the summer without any action on the measure.
So, the bill won’t be reviewed again until January 5th, 2022, when the 130th legislative session of the Pine Tree State is scheduled to open. This is the second time over the last two years that the sports betting legalization bill in Maine has taken a significant step towards becoming law but had to wait for six months because of the adjournment of legislative sessions.
The Sponsor of LD 1352 Wanted to Squash the Measure Because of ‘Tethering’
According to local sources, the sponsor of LD 1352, Sen. Louis Luchini, a Democrat representing District 7, Hancock County, wasn’t too happy about one of the bill’s recent amendments. Senator Luchini decried a tethering clause that was added to the bill late in May. The tethering measure requires that mobile sports betting operators have to form a partnership with local brick and mortar casinos and off-track betting (OTB) facilities in the state to qualify for a license. In a special legislative session in mid-June, Sen. Luchini spoke against his brainchild because of the amendment saying that:
“Tethering is bad for our constituents. It’s anti-competitive. It makes the casinos the gatekeepers of who will be able to operate in Maine.”
According to Sen. Luchini, an open marketplace was better for the Pine Tree State as tethering would mean that sports betting operators would have to part with market-access fees. If digital operators are required to pay their land-based counterparts, the expenditure will end up trickling down to bettors as they would, in turn, receive less lucrative odds. However, regardless of the sponsor’s protests, his colleagues in the chamber greenlit the amendment in a 23-12 vote.
Other key elements of Senator Luchini’s bill include:
- $100,000 fee for a two-year license
- 10% tax for retail sports betting
- 16% tax for mobile sports betting
- Collegiate betting on Maine teams is prohibited
- Protection of underage residents against sports betting ads
- A ban on betting on events with potential integrity concerns such as the color of the Gatorade shower and penalties
Higher Hopes for Launching Sports Betting in 2022
Nonetheless, Milton Champion, the Executive Director of the Maine Gambling Control Unit, is hopeful that next year will be the charm for the legalization of sports betting in the Pine Tree State. According to Champion, the sports betting pursuit in 2021 has hit a wall because there were no in-person meetings due to pandemic-induced health and safety precautions. Instead, legislators had to hold zoom meetings, which the MGCU Executive Director suggests reduced the energy and interest that lawmakers had for the sports betting measure this year.
Champion added that some key issues have already been straightened out in the 2021 legislative sessions, and come 2021, lawmakers will finally score the touchdown. He said:
“It just didn’t have the punch this year. It never felt like there was the same interest as last year, and that was due to the pandemic, in my opinion. It’s like a statue. You chip away at it every year and eventually get a finished product. It’s a matter of when, not if, for Maine sports betting.”
Should LD 1352 be okayed on the Appropriations Table and the Senate next year, and Governor Mills rubberstamps it, Maine will be the fourth New England state to legalize sports betting after Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.