Maine was set to became the first state to legalize sports betting in 2020. However, Governor Janet Mills decided to veto the legislation Friday in what many consider a disappointing, and somewhat surprising development.
Bill Miller, CEO of the American Gaming Association, spoke to Sports Handle from the National Council of Legislators From Gaming States Convention in reaction: “I think that if I were a betting man, and naturally I am because I have this job, I would have bet that it would have become law without her signature. I’m curious to hear her rationale and what caused her to make that decision.”
Mills announced the veto in a two-page letter to the legislature explaining her decision.
Gov. Mills VETOES sports betting bill #MEpolitics
“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.”
— Jon Chrisos (@JonWGME) January 10, 2020
The proposed law, LD 553, cleared the legislature in June 2019. It was the winner out of seven bills filed in 2019.
Due to a quirk in Maine’s legislative setup, the 129th legislature reconvened for three days beginning Jan. 8, and Mills had until the session expired at 11:59 p.m. Jan. 10 to sign, veto, or let the bill become law with no action. In the days leading up to Friday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline, stakeholders and lawmakers had no idea what Mills would do. While the governor’s office was involved in writing the bill, Mills did not immediately sign it, and it was unclear what would happen. On Wednesday, Maine attorney Steve Silver told Sports Handle, “It’s really up in the air, and everyone is just kind of waiting.”
There’s a slim chance sports betting could still become legal. According to Maine’s legislative website, vetoed bills go back to the state legislature for another vote. A two-thirds vote in favor in both chambers is required for passage. LD 553 passed by only four votes, 19-15, in the Senate in June. Results of the House vote are not available.
Maine bill appealed to stakeholders
From a stakeholder standpoint, the new law would have been a welcome addition to New England, which has two legal sports betting states, both of which offer bettors only a single option. Neighboring New Hampshire became the latest to go live when it did so on Dec. 30, 2019 via the DraftKings Sportsbook.
“Now that New Hampshire is live, I’m sure they will be happy to take money from those wanting to participate in legal sports betting as they cross the border from Maine,” consultant Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors said. “They and the illegal bookies are the winners with today’s veto.”
The Maine bill called for the “open, competitive” environment that operators crave and included a provision for statewide mobile with remote registration. In addition, the tax rate — 10 percent for retail locations and 20 percent for mobile — and low application fees should have had potential operators clamoring to set up shop, despite Maine being among the smallest states in the nation.
The proposed law would have allowed for 11 retail sports betting licenses covering the state’s four tribes, four OTBs, two casinos, and one harness racing track. The commercial casinos are located in Oxford, in the western part of the state near the Vermont border, and Bangor, in the central/eastern part of the state. There would also have been mobile-only licenses available.
Of the six New England states, Maine would have been the third behind Rhode Island and New Hampshire to legalize. A Vermont lawmaker filed a mobile sports betting bill earlier this week, and politicians in both Connecticut and Massachusetts have been kicking around sports betting for nearly two years with no meaningful action.