Bill To Legalize Maine Sports Betting Takes Big Step

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Maine sports betting

A sports betting section remains a crucial point of discussion to a bill in Maine aimed at strengthening relations between the state and its tribes.

During a Wednesday work session, the Judiciary Committee advanced an amended LD 585, 8-6. Sports betting is a small piece of a greater multi-bill tribal sovereignty package.

The bill creates four mobile licenses for the state’s federally recognized tribes, while part of Wednesday’s amendment added additional retail sportsbook licenses for commercial gaming operators in the state. A separate ME sports betting bill remains on the Special Appropriations Table from last year’s session.

Maine sports betting adjustments

The state’s off-track betting facilities received retail sports betting licenses in the original bill.

Wednesday’s amendment adds licenses for the state’s two horse racing tracks — one of which Hollywood Casino manages — and Oxford Casino. There are also two extra licenses for future OTBs or race tracks.

According to legislative staff, sports betting is not necessary to the bill’s passage. The state’s two casinos and the Sports Betting Alliance testified against the sports betting portion of the bill last month.

Sports betting a piece of bigger package

The state’s tribes and Gov. Janet Mills support the legislative package addressing tribal sovereignty issues. The bills are a result of negotiations between the parties, while the Judiciary Committee held several multi-hour work sessions on the bills.

LD 585 aims to improve communication between the state and tribe, and amend tax laws to improve tribal economic welfare.

The mobile ME sports betting exclusivity was also included as an economic opportunity for the tribes. Mills vetoed a sports betting bill in 2020, so some proponents feel this is a good way across the goal line.

Maine expansion of gaming ‘small potatoes’

Multiple lawmakers expressed concern about the expansion of gaming while leaving existing stakeholders out of mobile. Hollywood Casino lobbyist Chris Jackson also spoke at Wednesday’s work session, advocating for a mobile license.

Maine Gambling Control Unit Executive Director Milton Champion said the state could bring in up to $6.9 million annually from sports betting. The casinos, meanwhile, contribute upward of $60 million per year to the state.

“This is not going to be a big one for us,” Champion said. “A lot of the casinos really describe it as no more than an amenity, like putting in a good buffet.”

Existing bill still in play?

Last year, legislators passed LD 1352, which would legalize sports betting in the state, and provides the tribes and commercial gaming establishments with mobile licenses. That bill is still alive but appears unlikely to receive the governor’s support.

Several legislators voting against LD 585 Wednesday suggested they would support it if LD 1352 replaced the bill’s current gaming language. Other lawmakers said alterations to the legislation can be made later, but LD 585 is a way to accomplish multiple goals.

“I’ve lost confidence [in LD 1352] because it has lingered for so long without immediate attention or resolution,” Rep. Steve Moriarty said. “We ought to yield to the work that’s been developed. This by no means remains beyond the reach of the legislature in the future if further tweaking is required.”