Featured in this article:
  • Maine lawmakers are debating four sportsbooks bills.
  • Governor vetoed a similar proposal two years ago.
  • Whether to tie licenses to existing gambling facilities is crucial question.

Regulated Maine sportsbooks are once again being debated in the state legislature. Two years after Governor Janet Mills vetoed a sportsbook bill, lawmakers filed four wagering proposals. However, the four bills – three the state House and one in the Senate – represent two different models of regulation. Additionally, it is still unclear if the Governor’s position on regulated Maine sportsbooks has evolved.

What Are the Plans for Maine Sportsbooks?

When she vetoed regulating Maine sportsbooks two years, Gov. Mills was “unconvinced at this time” that Mainers wanted more gambling. Whether the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying dip is state revenue has affected her position is unclear. The bill she vetoed did not tether sportsbook licenses to existing casinos or parimutuel harness tracks.

Oxford Maine Casino

Will mobile licenses be tied to existing locations, like the Oxford Casino seen here?

Deciding whether to tether licenses to existing gaming infrastructure is the key difference between the two plans introduced. LD 1352, sponsored by Senator Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth), partners with LD 1527, introduced by Representative Tim Roche (R-Wells). Their plan creates an open market for mobile and online sportsbook operators. It is like the one vetoed two years ago because it does not tether the licenses.

Conversely, the opposing model ties any future Maine sportsbooks to a casino, racetrack, Native American Tribe, or OTB. Senator Joseph Baldacci (D-Bangor) introduced LD 1404, limiting licenses to existing land-based gambling operations. Similarly, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) proposed LD 1405. However, Sen. Jackson’s bill differs on how to spend revenues from Maine sportsbooks.

Maine Sportsbooks Bills Are Similar

All four bills agree on most of the particulars, save for tethering licenses to existing facilities. Each proposal includes:

  • A 16% tax on revenues from mobile wagering.
  • A 10% tax on all in-person sports betting at licensed retail sportsbooks.
  • License fees of $20,000 for online operators.
  • License fees of $2,000 for retail Maine sportsbooks.
  • Licenses are good for two years.
  • No betting on in-state college sports.

While the tax rates are in line with similar states, the license fees are notably low. It is possible that as the bills go through the legislative process, amendments drive up the initial costs.

There are other differences amongst the bills besides tethering, but they are minimal. Provisions such as whether to require in-person registration or ban advertising aimed at minors are not dealbreakers.

What Is the Difference Between Tethered and Untethered Licenses?

So, regulating Maine sportsbooks will require reaching consensus about whether to tether them to existing locations. The Governor may be more amenable to a bill tying operators to an established Maine entity. Maine’s Native American tribes are currently seeking the ability to build more casinos. A new casino with a retail sportsbook would be more profitable if the tribes could also offer mobile wagering.

Maine Sports Betting Legalization

Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 at the State House in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

And that is the crux of the argument: who benefits from Maine sportsbooks? By tethering licenses, only companies currently invested in Maine receive the upside of mobile betting. So, those operators, like Penn National, are lobbying for the tethered model. Penn National pointed to illegal conduct in Tennessee’s untethered mobile market as reason to tie licenses to land-based operators.

However, supporters of the other model argue that the market should dictate winners and losers, not the government. And mobile sportsbook operators have powerful lobbying arms themselves.

Until Gov. Mills weighs in, the future of regulated Maine sportsbooks will remain unclear. The 2021 legislative session is already in a special session, so debate on sportsbooks needs to compete with other significant issues. Businesses that have already established operations in Maine will seek to support the tethered model. But outsiders will argue for a market-based, untethered regulation. A possible compromise lies in prioritizing existing land-based gaming locations before offering outsiders their own licenses.

Brad Vanderhide

Brad Vanderhide is an avid blackjack player and sports bettor whose only rule is to never wager on or against his beloved Cleveland Browns. With a background in politics, law, and government compliance, his writing provides a high-level overview of the changing online gambling landscape. As a native Ohioan, Brad cannot wait for his state to get out of its own way and open up legalized sport betting and online casino gaming.

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