Maine could be the first state usher in legal sports wagering in 2020. That is, if Governor Janet Mills finally decides to sign (or not) LD 553, which lawmakers passed in June 2019. The bill has been sitting on Mills’ desk for six months, and when the 129th legislative session re-opened on Wednesday, the clock started ticking again.
Due to a unique situation with how Maine’s legislative sessions run, the current session is an extension of last year’s session — in Maine, legislative sessions are numbered, and the current 129th session expires Friday night at 11:59 p.m. What that means, according to Maine sports and gaming law attorney Steve Silver, is that Mills has three days, including today (Wednesday) to sign, take no action or veto the bill.
Ahead of the session, Representative Scott Strom, who along with Senator Louis Luchini shepherded the bill through the legislature, took to one of the state’s newspapers, the Bangor News, with a plea to Mills to sign.
Lawmaker pleads for legalization
“It is my hope that Mills allows this bipartisan legislation that was carefully constructed with input from the administration through its Gambling Control Unit to become law and seize an opportunity to protect Mainers and deliver a huge blow to a pervasive illegal market,” Strom wrote.
“LD 553 recognizes the importance of mobile sports wagering and adopts a framework that will give Mainers options and best position sportsbook operators to put the most significant dent in the illegal market,” reads the editorial, which ran on Monday. “The framework provides a safe, legal sports wagering option in Maine and creates a new source of tax revenue, ensuring that sports wagering dollars do not stay underground or disappear across the border into New Hampshire.”
This is business that Maine isn’t getting, thanks to @GovJanetMills putting a hold on bipartisan legislation to legalize sports betting that the Legislature passed last session. #mepolitics https://t.co/tYmk5T9etS
— Jim Fossel (@JimFossel) January 4, 2020
That Mills has not signed or publicly indicated that she will allow sports betting to become legal without signing, is sort of bizarre. LD 553 passed along party lines in June, with the majority Democrats carrying it. Mills is a Democrat.
“It’s really up in the air, and everyone is just kind of waiting,” Silver, who taught a sports betting class at the University of Maine and has become the state’s de facto expert on the subject, told Sports Handle. “I don’t see any real political blowback, it’s maybe just a personal legacy kind of thing.”
As the former attorney general, Mills comes from a law enforcement background. But according to media reports throughout 2019 and into 2020, her office was involved in crafting the bill, which the industry would welcome, because it has a low tax rate, allows for state-wide mobile sports betting, and would create an “open, competitive environment” that generally benefits operators and consumers alike.
Maine would offer open, competitive marketplace
In fact, if the bill becomes law, Maine could become the first New England state to offer bettors multiple sportsbook options — in both Rhode Island and New Hampshire, there is only a single commercial operator.
In Rhode Island, which was the first New England state to legalize in 2018, sports betting is regulated by the lottery in partnership with the state’s two casinos, which offer both retail and mobile through IGT. In New Hampshire, which could have awarded up to 10 retail and five mobile licenses, the lottery awarded a single, exclusive contract to DraftKings, which went live with its mobile sportsbook on Dec. 30, 2019. Intralot, the current lottery vendor, will run the New Hampshire lottery’s own sports betting offering, but that is not live yet.
— Tom Moroney (@TMoroney) January 8, 2020
Since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018, New England states have been actively contemplating legal sports betting, but the region’s two most populous states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are at loggerheads — Massachusetts because lawmakers can’t seem to agree on what sports betting should look like and Connecticut because the state and its two tribes are at an impasse on sports betting, iGaming and exclusivity.
The Maine bill doesn’t just allow for state-wide mobile sports betting, it allows for stand-alone mobile, meaning that mobile sites don’t have to be tethered to brick-and-mortar locations. It also allots 11 retail sports betting licenses, for the state’s four tribes, four OTBs, two casinos and one harness racing track.
The bill calls for tiered application and tax rates — $2,000 and 10 percent for retail locations and $20,000 and 16 percent for mobile/internet sports betting. Licenses are valid for two years. In either case, the application fee is among the cheapest of the legal states.
The Maine bill would allow sports betting on professional, collegiate events and e-sports, sets the minimum age at 21 and does not include an “integrity fee” or data mandate. The state’s Gambling Control Unit would be the regulator. It also includes a unique clause that allows sportsbooks to “intercept” winnings to pay child-support debt.
With a population of 1.35 million as of 2020, Maine is the ranked No. 43 in terms of population, only nominally smaller than New Hampshire (1.37 million), but bigger than Delaware (983,000), the first state to legalize after PASPA fell. According the the fiscal note attached to the bill, the state could expect $1.3 million in revenue in the first year of legal sports betting and up to $5.2 million by the fourth year.