In a state that is about as far East as possible in the U.S., the phrase “Wild, Wild West” came up in Maine Thursday when the Senate overrode Governor Janet Mills’ veto of a bill to legalize sports wagering, 20-10.
The vote was just barely the two-thirds required to override a veto. The Senate will now send the override to the House for concurrence. The bill was one three Mills vetoed on January, and the first to be overridden.
Ever since Mills vetoed the measure on Jan. 10, the override has been on the Senate calendar with no action. On a snowy day that nearly ended up in a cancelled session, Democratic Senator Louis Luchini walked his peers through a well thought-out presentation on why he and the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs believe their bill, SB 175, is the best way for Maine to move forward. And then his explanation withstood a barrage of reasons for why Maine should legalize — but in a different way, under different parameters.
At issue among the senators wasn’t whether or not sports betting should be legalized, but how. The current bill would allow for one of the most open, competitive marketplaces in the country — it legalizes state-wide mobile with remote registration, no requirement to tether to mobile sportsbook to a brick-and-mortar- casino, and no limit on the number of potential licensees. Almost any entity meeting regulatory muster could host a physical sportsbook lounge, from commercial casinos to OTBs and horse racetracks to tribal interests. It also reasonable tax rates of 10% on gross gaming revenue from retail sportsbooks and 16% from mobile sportsbooks.
Maine House still must weigh in on sports betting
“The legalization before us is bad for Maine, it is the wild, wild west of sports betting,” argued Senator Republican Senator Scott Cyrway. “For me, it comes down to the impact it will have on our own state, that is the biggest part of this, is how it weighs on our state. Simply put, where there is a brick and mortar, there is an investment. If you do not live in Maine, you are not going to be as invested as if you do live in the state. Our casinos provide jobs, and a safe place for gaming.”
Cyrway was referring to the “untethered” mobile component in the bill, which would allow mobile sports betting operators, like FanDuel or William Hill or the Las Vegas-based Circa Sports (which just found a partner in Colorado) or whomever, enter the market without a physical location.
On the other side was Republican Senator Matthew Pouliot, who said that one gaming chief said it best when it comes to sports betting, “New Hampshire is open for business.”
He was referring Maine’s neighbor, and lottery executive director Charlie McIntrye, though it appears it was New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu who tweeted out the phrase on the day of Mills’ veto.
NEW HAMPSHIRE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS! https://t.co/ap53l7Xh2l
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) January 10, 2020
DraftKings launched its mobile sports betting app in late December in the Granite State. Since then, some Maine lawmakers have felt enormous pressure to legalize, as it’s been clear that Mainers are going to New Hampshire to place bets.
“If the Maine House doesn’t approve the veto override, it will be the wild, wild West, because everyone is going to New Hampshire, and the illegal market (in Maine) would continue to thrive,” said consultant Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors after Thursday’s vote. “I think they listened to their constituents, and they see the benefit of having a regulated market, seeing tax revenue flow into the state, and squashing the black market.”
Luchini calls casino lobby ‘overstated’
When Maine lawmakers first approved sports betting, they did so with a 19-15 vote in the Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House, which did not take a roll call-vote. There appears to be some question about procedure this time around, and whether or not the House will take a roll-call vote or a show of hands/verbal vote. But either way, it appears the House must concur before sports betting becomes legal in Maine.
At the outset of Tuesday’s debate, Luchini carefully laid out why his bill would be best for Maine, and called casino lobbying “overstated.” In particular, Luchini explained why the bill does not include a provision to have mobile applications tethered to retail sites.
“Under (tethering) agreements, (operators) pay a market access fee … and the majority of our committee rejected this for three reasons: 1. it’s totally anti-competitive; … 2. This really amounts to a subsidy for casinos … they use tethering as a way to prop up struggling casinos; … and 3. They use apps to drive people into casinos.”
Luchini went on to say that the demographic for sports betting — usually a fairly well-to-do young man — doesn’t often visit casinos and that he and his committee “didn’t think it was wise to try to get people to come in use slot machines,” which he called the “most addictive” kind of gambling. In closing, Luchini said, “This bill offers a safe, regulated system for those that want to bet on sports, and it helps out Maine retailers who want to have sports betting.”
Though opponents argued that mobile operators don’t have a vested interest in the state, it was clear that Luchini never would have called for the vote on Thursday if he didn’t know he had the votes. It looked as if the override would happen earlier this week, but two Senators who were confirmed “yes” votes were absent on Tuesday.
— John Cannavo (@JohnCannavo_) February 6, 2020
Should the House concur, Maine will become the third New England state with legal sports betting, behind Rhode Island, which legalized in 2018, and New Hampshire. Lawmakers in both Connecticut and Massachusetts have been discussing sports betting for the last few years, but neither has taken any real action on it. The Connecticut General Assembly opened on Wednesday, and ahead of that two Senators released a draft of a sports betting bill.
The first opportunity for the House to vote on the override will be Tuesday, when it goes back in session.
Thursday’s session was historic in that it marked the first time that a veto on sports betting legislation was overridden in any chamber since the fall of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Governors in Michigan and Montana have both vetoed sports betting-related or internet gaming legislation. In Michigan, the veto came in late 2018, but sports betting was legalized a year later. In Montana, one of two sports betting bills was vetoed in 2019, and the state’s lottery is in the process of going live with sports betting.