Just days after the state’s Senate voted to override a gubernatorial veto of 2019’s sports betting legalization bill, members of the Maine House of Representatives failed to do the same.
As a result, the veto of Legislative Draft 553 – also known as the “An Act To Ensure Proper Oversight of Sports Betting in the State” – issued by Governor Janet Mills in January has been upheld. That means the regulated sports betting approved by the Maine Legislature back in June of 2019 will remain on hold for the foreseeable future.
Sports Betting Squashed After Roller Coaster Legislative Ride
Despite nearly unanimous passage by the Maine House of Representatives at that time, Mills, a Democrat, decided to exercise her executive veto authority and kill LD-553 at the last minute. In a letter explaining the decision, Mills told legislators that Maine would be better served by sitting on the sidelines rather than rushing headlong into the United States‘ national sports betting legalization movement:
“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.
Before Maine joins the frenzy of states hungry to attract this market, I believe we need to examine the issue more clearly; better understand the evolving experiences of other states; and thoughtfully determine the best approach for Maine.”
Mills’ surprise move prompted immediate pushback from the Maine Senate, which last week voted 20-10 in favor of overriding the Governor’s veto. That margin marked the minimum required to meet the two-thirds supermajority required to overturn a gubernatorial veto.
As the Bangor Daily News later revealed, the House override only occurred after state senator Lisa Keim (R-18) accidentally voted to support the sports betting bill she previously opposed. Keim declined to comment on the mishap, but she reportedly joined four other Republicans and 15 Democrats who voted in favor of the override during an initial tally.
But despite her Republican colleagues later changing to the “No” camp, Keim failed to do the same, becoming the deciding vote in the process.
That shifted the onus to the House, where lawmakers voted 85-57 in favor of the override – a wide margin, but one which failed to achieve a two-thirds supermajority by nine votes.
Governor Rallies Democrat Allies to Circle Political Wagons
Following the Senate override – a first for Mills, and one led by her fellow Democrats at that -Mills made every effort to avoid an embarrassing political defeat.
As he told Legal Sports Report ahead of the decisive House vote, state representative Scott Strom (R-106) – who sponsored LD-553 in the House – Mills spent a brief delay between the Senate and House votes engaged in a relentless lobbying campaign to secure “No” votes:
“That four-to-five-day window from the Senate vote to the House vote gave so much time for lobbying and whipping to change the outcome.
If we had voted Thursday, we would have overridden that veto, no doubt.”
Among the allies deployed by Mills were hundreds of employees of Hollywood Casino Bangor and Oxford Casino, both of which oppose LD-553 because it allows out of state sportsbook operators to compete with local gaming providers.
Strom also made it clear that he believes Mills’ late-game lobbying was based on political pragmatism as much as any genuine opposition to legal sports wagering:
“I’ve never seen lobbying like this before on any bill. I mean, the governor is working the Democrats trying to get them to the sustain and the casinos are working everybody really hard right now.
We had people who were so strongly on board with the bill come in today saying they suddenly had changed their vote because they heard from so many casino workers telling them they were afraid they’d lose their jobs all because of the mobile aspect.
I’m kind of surprised the governor cares about it this much, but maybe she doesn’t care about the issue as much as not having her veto overrode by her own party.”