Amid swirling drama, the Maine House on Tuesday killed a bill that would have allowed for legal sports wagering in the state — possibly for the next few years. The House voted, 85-57, to sustain Governor Janet Mills’ veto of the measure that passed in 2019, just five days after the Senate overturned the veto on a 20-10 vote. That vote is now tainted after one Senator appears to have voted “yes” by mistake.
In the House, a two-thirds majority of present members was needed to override the veto. That number on Tuesday was 94, but only 85 representatives voted to override, so it failed, and Mills’ veto stands.
According to multiple sources, Tuesday’s vote was swayed by casino company Penn National, which lobbied hard against LD 553 because it wants Maine to require that mobile platforms be tethered to bricks-and-mortar locations. The bill would have allowed for mobile sportsbooks to enter the market with no such relationship with an existing casino property.
On Tuesday morning, it was unclear whether or not the House had the votes to override the veto, but Republican bill sponsor Scott Strom and several other proponents of legal sports betting argued that it is already happening in Maine, that residents are currently going over the border to New Hampshire to place bets and that the open, competitive marketplace they proposed is the most level of playing fields.
“Since the Senate voted to override the veto, it became apparent that Governor Mills was on the offensive to preserve her veto, and the casino industry wanted a monopoly on sports betting licenses so badly, they were willing kill this bill, rather than having an open marketplace,” said Portland, Maine-based attorney Steve Silver.
‘You can’t legislate morality’
On the other side of the issues, representatives argued that legalizing sports betting is “hypocritical” when Maine is dealing with crises caused by other vices, and one even compared gambling to the opioid crisis.
“You can’t legislate morality, and whatever we do today isn’t going to keep people from gambling if they want to gamble, but there are sometimes victims of gambling,” said Republican Representative Richard Bradstreet. “By sustaining this veto, maybe we can help some from furthering their addictions or more important, keep some from having an addiction. … Sometimes you have to stand up for things just because they’re right.”
In the end, it likely wasn’t the pleas in the chamber that swayed House members, but lobbying by casinos in the hallway. LD 553, considered by many stakeholders as a model sports betting bill because it would allow for retail sports betting at nearly any location and non-tethered mobile, both at reasonable tax rates, was vehemently opposed by casinos. Requiring that mobile platforms be tethered to retail locations affords them control over market access, which comes at a price.
Large regional operator Penn National, which recently agreed to pay $163 million for a 36 percent stake in Barstool Sports, will roll out Barstool Sportsbook later this year. Penn National in August 2019 sold market access according to different financial terms with DraftKings, PointsBet, theScore Bet and The Stars Group (FOX Bet).
According to a source, Tuesday’s action could have long-ranging ramifications on the legalization of sports betting in Maine. It’s possible that lawmakers won’t take up the issue again until 2022, meaning that it could be three years from now (at best) before a legal sports bet could be placed in Maine.
Senator ‘mistakenly’ voted to override
The result was likely a massive relief for Republican Senator Lisa Keim, who reportedly “mistakenly” voted to override the veto last week. According to the Bangor News, Keim was among a block of Senators who oppose sports betting, but initially voted “yes” to the override. The others changed their votes to “no” before voting closed.
As noted by Independent Representative Jeffery Evangelos, who spoke in favor of overturning the veto, Maine will now likely fall even further behind in the race to migrate sports betting dollars from legal to illegal markets, and to tax coffers. Rhode Island and New Hampshire already have live, legal sports betting, including mobile options. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and Connecticut are actively pursuing a path to legalization.
“We can’t legislate fun and people are going to have fun doing this,” Evangelos said. “We tried to do that, it was called Prohibition, and that resulted in the mob. It’s tough with New Hampshire and Rhode Island already doing it, and Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York thinking about it.
“The thing is, we’re already doing this and the state is already in the gambling business. … Let’s get on board with the rest of our neighbors in New England and have some fun.”