Narrow Senate Override Puts Maine Sports Betting One Step Away From Reality

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Maine sports betting

The state Senate voted Thursday narrowly to override Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of legislation to legalize Maine sports betting.

Overturning a governor’s veto in Maine requires a two-thirds vote by both chambers of the legislature. Leaving no margin for error, the Senate voted 20-10 to override Mill’s rejection of legal sports betting in Maine.

“I’m pleased the Senate voted to override the veto of sports betting,” said Sen. Louis Luchini, sponsor of the legislation. “This allows us to set up a safe, regulated system for Maine’s sports bettors while raising revenues for the state.”

The next and final step for LLD 53 to become law is a vote in the House, which the House sponsor says will come Tuesday.

Rep. Scott Strom told Legal Sports Report that he is confident the votes are there for an override in the House.

How Maine Senate found votes to override

The Maine Senate first addressed the veto of LD 553 on Jan. 14, tabling the discussion for a later time.

Having passed originally by a vote of 19-13, the votes weren’t there for an override at the outset. The Senate continued to table the issue as Luchini gathered votes.

With so few members of the chamber, votes can turn based on attendance in the chamber on any given day. There were rumblings that the override could happen this past Tuesday, but it turned out the action would have come up one vote short due to the absence of Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow.

With Dow present Thursday and five other senators absent, the stars finally aligned to run the veto override.

Seventeen of the 20 votes came from senators who originally voted for the bill.

Choosing Maine sports betting over party

Mills vetoed the sports betting bill on Jan.  10. In her veto letter detailing the denial, Mills said that she was “unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on competitive athletic events.”

Luchini initially thought an override would be difficult. Luchini is one of 21 Democrats on the Maine Senate against 14 Republicans.

“It will be a challenge I think to overturn,” Luchini told LSR. “Two-thirds is a high bar, and I think she articulated some concerns that a lot of people have.”

The Maine sports betting bill had bipartisan support, and Senate President Troy Jackson helped push for the override.

Maine casinos opposed veto override

In a discussion leading up to the override vote, it was revealed that the state’s two commercial casinos — Hollywood Casino Bangor and Oxford Casino — were lobbying for the veto to stand.

Their issue with the bill relates to the lack of a requirement for tethering seen in other states. Rather than requiring online sportsbooks to partner with the casinos, companies without a physical presence in the state are allowed to participate independently.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that worked on the bill, argued for the casinos:

“Mobile sports wagering will eventually come to Maine, we have no doubt to that, and the rest of the country,” Cyrway said. “But the legalization before us is bad for Maine. It is the wild, wild west of sports betting. Under this legislation, no investment in Maine is required. There is no limit on licenses and there is no requirement that the mobile licenses be tied to an existing facility.”

Luchini countered that the bill does not require tethering because it’s anti-competitive, it amounts to a subsidy for the casinos. It could be used to attract young men into casinos to play slot machines.

He pointed out that the legislation sets up a tiered tax rate of 10% for physical locations and 16% for mobile licensees in recognition that casinos in Maine have employees, physical investments and pay property taxes. He also noted that the other physical gaming interests in the state — four tribal casinos, one racetrack and four off-track betting parlors — all supported the override.

House could complete veto override Tuesday

While the Senate pushed back the override to gather votes, it seems the House has been waiting patiently to do its part. Strom has long said that he is comfortable that the votes are there to override the sports betting veto.

He added that the Democrats like that the bill allows participation of the state’s Indian tribes.

This would be the first time a governor’s veto of sports betting legislation gets overturned in the United States post-PASPA.