After multiple committee hearings, work groups, and discussion about amendments, it appears that the Maine state legislature will close on Wednesday with no action on sports betting.
As of late Tuesday night, no amendments to LB 1352 had been filed, and the bill remained assigned to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.
It’s likely that the legislature will reconvene for a special session to continue work on the budget and other issues and sports betting could come up, potentially setting up a scenario similar to the one that played out in 2019-20.
At that time, the legislature approved sports wagering in June 2019 and Gov. Janet Mills sat on the bill until the 11th hour, vetoing it in January 2020.
“I remain unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on competitive athletic event,” Mills wrote in a veto letter.
Many lawmakers disagreed, and the Senate was able to override the veto, but the House could not muster enough support.
Lawmakers trying to appease governor
Should sports betting come up during a special session this summer, Mills could again leave the bill on her desk for months. Even if the legislature approves sports betting in summer session and Mills signs off on it quickly, it’s not certain operators could launch before the end of 2021.
The Maine House today quashed legal sports betting when it voted 85-57 to sustain Governor Janet Mills' veto of a 2019 bill, just 5 days after Senate voted to override the veto.
According to sources, this action could put sports betting in Maine on hold for two years.
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) February 11, 2020
Lawmakers filed four sports betting bills this session, but killed three during a committee meeting in early June. A key discussion point was whether or not to require digital platforms to be tethered to brick-and-mortar casinos or horse racetracks. The bill that moved forward, LB 1352, did not initially require that. The casino lobby pushed for it, and other stakeholders said they could live with tethering, but an amendment to the bill never materialized.
According to sources, lawmakers have been trying to craft a bill to mollify Mills — meaning any legislation would need strict problem-gambling guardrails, clear advertising guidelines, and do everything possible to prevent minors from becoming involved in sports betting. These are widely accepted initiatives, of course. Sources also say that many around the governor are on board with sports betting, but Luchini’s bill stalled. And despite support from stakeholders, Luchini is opposed to the tethering model, and that could be a hold up, per sources.
Maine lagging in New England
For now, sports betting remains an unresolved issue, and Maine moved from potentially being a first mover in New England to lagging behind the pack. Rhode Island was the first New England state to legalize in 2018, followed by New Hampshire in 2019, and Connecticut in on May 27.
All three states either do or will offer some version of statewide mobile wagering. Maine has only two border states — New Hampshire and Vermont, which does not have legal sports betting. DraftKings has a monopoly in New Hampshire, and its an open secret, say sources, that Mainers are crossing the southern border to wager on the New England’s favorite teams — the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins … and anything else they’re interested in.
Massachusetts lawmakers are set to have a hearing on more than a dozen sports betting bills on June 17.