Maine legislators are juggling several bills that could legalize sports betting, but the path forward is unclear.
The Maine House Judiciary Committee held a work session Tuesday for LD 585, a bill that would grant mobile sports betting exclusivity to tribes in Maine. Following a lengthy discussion, the committee tabled the bill.
While Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed ME sports betting legislation in the past, she is on board with this effort. Meanwhile, a sports betting bill that passed both chambers last year, LD 1352, still sits on the Special Appropriations Table, waiting to be engrossed.
Maine sports betting proposal
Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross filed LD 585, part of an expansive tribal sovereignty package supported by the state’s four tribes and Mills.
The legislation features a recent amendment that grants mobile ME sports betting exclusivity, as well as a variety of other economic components that would be broad changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.
“The amendment to LD 585 will help to improve dialogue between state agencies and the Wabanaki Nations, and provide the Wabanaki Nations and our citizens with tools to create economic opportunities for us and these surrounding communities,” Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis said in a testimony.
Details of ME betting bill
The bill institutionalizes several communication channels between the tribe and the state. It also amends portions of the state’s tax laws to help improve tribal economic welfare.
The tribe would gain exclusive rights to online sports betting. Maine’s off-track betting facilities could apply for retail sports betting under the bill. The tribal mobile rights would be a change to the Maine gaming landscape, which has excluded the tribes since 1980.
Several legislators asked if the sports betting component was necessary for the success of the bill. According to legislative staff, the bill could continue if legislators remove the sports betting aspect.
FanDuel, DraftKings opposed
With commercial casinos excluded from sports betting, Maine casino operators are not happy with the new proposal.
Both Hollywood Casino and Oxford Casino representatives spoke out against the amendment during a hearing last month. The sports betting component to the bill threatens the legislation carried over from last year. That bill would give the casinos, off-track betting facilities, race tracks and tribes both retail and tethered mobile licenses.
“Unfortunately, Part J of this amendment is a significant step backwards from the existing proposal to legalize sports betting market in Maine,” according to the SBA’s written testimony. “SBA wants to make it clear that our members do not have opinions on the non-gaming aspects of LD 585, and the proposed committee amendment; our members oppose a limited market that restricts the number of experience operators eager to bring innovative and engaging products to Maine economy, and, above all, a process that ignores multiple years work by the Veteran and Legal Affairs Committee, stakeholders and Mainers.”
Maine’s 2021 sports betting effort alive
Maine legislators have a long relationship with sports betting. The state’s lawmakers passed a mobile sports betting bill in 2019, which included licenses for the tribes. Mills vetoed that bill in January 2020.
“I believe this bill is a good effort by those who wish to bring out into the open a black market activity that is practiced by many now and who want to regulate that activity without over-regulating or overtaxing it so as to drive it back underground. The bill is a step forward towards achieving that delicate balance,” Mills said in her veto letter. “But, respectfully, I remain unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on competitive athletic events.
“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.”
Last year, LD 1352 made it past the Senate and House after multiple committee meetings. Its sponsor, Sen. Louis Luchini, ended wavering in support of the bill because of tethering requirements amended into the bill.