An attempt to override the veto of Maine sports betting legislation fell short Tuesday after intense lobbying from Gov. Janet Mills to sustain her veto.
The Maine House of Representatives voted 85 to 57 to overturn the veto. To reach the two-thirds vote that is required to override, 94 votes were needed.
The Maine Senate voted Thursday to override the governor’s veto by a vote of 20 to 10, leaving the House as the last step.
If the House had been able to do its vote the same day, House sponsor Rep. Scott Strom tells Legal Sports Report that the vote would have been gone much differently.
“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,” Strom said. “If we had voted Thursday, we would have overridden that veto, no doubt.”
Expected override turned by late lobbying
While waiting for the Maine Senate to take action on the veto, Strom remained confident that the votes were there for an override.
After all, the House didn’t even take a tally of the vote when passing LD 553 last year because the overwhelming support was obvious. That changed Monday when Strom witnessed a lobbying campaign to the extent he had never before seen to sustain the veto.
“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,” Strom said.
Strom lamented that lobbying from Oxford Casino employees even got one of the members of the committee who crafted the bill, Rep. John Andrews, to change his vote. He added that the Christian Civic League changed the votes of at least a dozen people.
In the Senate, President Troy Jackson waited three weeks until the votes were there to run the override vote. House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is running for US Senate, did not choose to wait. The House could have voted any time before the session ends April 15.
Mills works the phones
Strom indicated that Gov. Janet Mills called all Democrats in the House asking them not to overturn the veto.
The sports betting legislation had wide bipartisan support in both chambers, as evidenced by the vote. The clout of the governor’s office won out in the end.
“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,” Strom said Monday.
Strom noted the irony that Mills just submitted a supplemental budget requiring the legislature find more than $100 million in new revenue while turning down the $7 million sports betting was projected to bring the state.
Casinos also opposed Maine sports betting bill
Strom indicated that legislators were bombarded Monday not only from lobbyists of Hollywood Casino Bangor and Oxford Casino, but from hundreds of employees of Oxford as well.
While the casinos support Maine sports betting, they wanted the state to uphold their edge by not allowing outside companies to offer sports wagering independently.
Instead, they asked for any mobile ME sports betting operator entering the state to be required to tether with an existing physical operator in Maine.
In arguing to override the veto, Rep. John Schneck, chair of the House Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, noted that the committee considered the issue thoroughly. It decided that the best course of action to prioritize in-state interests while maximizing revenue opportunities for the state was a tiered tax structure of 10% for retail and 16% for mobile.
Long journey of sports betting in Maine
The Maine legislature passed the sports betting bill last June. It would have allowed both retail and online sports betting via 11 properties: one racetrack, two casinos, four OTBs and four tribal casinos.
The bill went to Mills’ desk, where she took advantage of a quirky Maine rule to essentially punt the decision down the line.
In most states, not acting on legislation within a certain amount of time leads to it becoming law. In Maine, if the legislature isn’t in session at the time, then the governor can wait until it is back in session for that clock to start.
Mills ended up waiting until January to veto the bill, citing that she didn’t think the majority of Maine residents were ready to legalize sports betting.
Future of sports wagering in Maine
Maine can’t take up sports betting legislation again until next year unless leadership allowed an after-deadline vote. This is a short legislative session in Maine in which the legislature isn’t taking up a new policy.
Sports betting legislation will have to start the process all over again next year and likely wouldn’t pass until the session ends in June 2021. During that time, the state will miss another NFL season, another Super Bowl, March Madness and many other popular betting events.
Strom said Maine casinos that fought the bill might not find many sympathetic lawmakers next year.
“There’s so much anger now between some of us at the casinos that I don’t know if they get what they want passed next year in the legislature if enough people are back who they upset,” Strom said.
Until then, Mainers can always cross into New Hampshire to bet legally on sports or continue to place bets with illegal offshore websites or neighborhood bookies.