A Maine sports betting bill has passed the legislature, meaning the state is set to become the 16th to legalize sports betting since a federal ban was lifted. The development following a legislative sprint to reach the finish line in The Pine Tree State.
Legislative Draft 553 – better known as the “An Act To Ensure Proper Oversight of Sports Betting in the State” – was approved by the state Senate in a 19-15 vote held on Tuesday, June 18. That narrow vote occurred shortly after a unanimous vote in the 154-seat state House of Representatives, culminating a whirlwind effort to send a sports betting bill to the desk of Governor Janet Mills.
LD-553 was cobbled together late in the legislative session by members of the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which used the most palatable aspects of previously proposed sports betting bills to garner a consensus.
As of late May, state senator Louis Luchini (D-7) – who serves as the committee’s Chair and sponsored LD-553 – was still negotiating with colleagues to design the shell Maine sports betting bill in detail.
Governor Mills has 10 business days from the June 19 date of final legislative approval to sign LD-553, but her assent before the July 3 deadline is widely expected to be a formality.
In an interview with Legal Sports Report, state representative Scott Strom (R-106) – who sponsored LD-553 in the House – indicated that Mills already submitted a round of vetoes that didn’t include sports betting:
“As far as we’re aware, any vetoes she was going to issue were issued. She didn’t veto it, so we’re pretty confident she’ll sign.”
If and when Mills signs the bill, sports betting legalization would go into effect across the Pine Tree State following a 90-day window.
The Gambling Control Unit (GCU) of the Maine Department of Public Safety (DPS) will be tasked with regulatory oversight of the new sports betting industry.
Both brick and mortar and online / mobile wagering will be permitted, with land-based bet shops limited to the state’s two casinos (Hollywood Bangor and Oxford Casino), Scarborough Downs racetrack, four off-track betting (OTB) facilities, and four federally recognized Native American tribes permitted to offer gambling.
Bettors over the age of 21 who visit one of these 11 potential retail locations can place wagers on professional and collegiate sports, with the exception of local college teams.
Operators would pay taxes on gross gaming revenue at a variable rate, with retail and online / mobile wagers taxed at 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Prospective operators will pay a licensing fee of only $2,000, which pales in comparison to the six-figure fees charged in many new sports betting jurisdictions.
According to the Legislature’s fiscal analysis, sports betting revenue is expected to add $1.3 million to the state’s General Fund in the first fiscal year, before doubling in 2020-21.
Speaking to SportsHandle, Steve Silver – professor of gaming law at the University of Maine School of Law – praised Maine’s lawmakers for taking a proactive approach with LD-553:
“(This bill) would be one of the few post-PASPA laws that embraces a free market concept. Meaning numerous licenses in terms of type and location, relatively low fees and taxes, no integrity fees, and no data mandates.”
One of the only points of contention to emerge during the rushed drafting process concerned the notion of “tethering,” or forcing third-party online bookmakers and operators to partner with local land-based gaming license-holders. Many members of the Senate agitated for a tethered market, arguing that major industry players like DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill would overwhelm local casinos, racetracks, and bingo halls based on their brand awareness:
As Strom observed after his bill’s narrow passage in the Senate, the tethering debate nearly caused sports betting to be abandoned at the last minute:
“Casinos were fighting us right up until the vote passed. They fought for tethering because they felt DraftKings and FanDuel are going to have an advantage over them.”
That’s what made the Senate vote close, that members were trying to help the brick-and-mortars.
But we felt DraftKings and FanDuel have been good operators in the state on daily fantasy sports and should be allowed to continue operating on their own with sports betting.”