Maine sports betting regulators are still taking their time, but the market could launch by this summer.
Maine Gambling Control Unit Executive Director Milton Champion laid out the path forward for ME sports betting at a press conference Wednesday announcing the publishing of the proposed rules. The announcement also included the notice of a public hearing for the rules Jan. 31.
Depending on the public comments, Champion told LSR this week it is possible for online ME sports betting goes live this summer, but certainly not sooner.
“I know this is a hot topic,” Champion said. “I know everybody wants it out during the Super Bowl or during March Madness. But let’s face it, it’s just not going to happen that quickly.”
Maine rulemaking took a long time
Champion said he originally started writing rules back in 2019 when the legislature first passed a sports betting bill before it was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills. After Mills signed last year’s bill that gives the state’s four federally recognized tribes control of the online market, Champion restarted his process.
“I was nervous about being the fifth or sixth state to launch, I feel more comfortable being 34 or 35,” Champion said, adding the rules look similar to the states he based them on. “We’re not trying to change things here in Maine. We’re not going to reinvent the wheels.”
The states Champion and his staff looked at in developing Maine’s rules include:
Champion kept some surprises
His biggest surprise is operators will not be able to deduct promotional spending. Operators also cannot advertise promotional free bets, Champion said.
“Maine is just not a big advertising state, people have already said they don’t want to see every other commercial,” Champion said. “Everyone knows it’s legal and coming sooner or later. They don’t need to be overwhelmed with all this advertising, free this, bonus that.
“I said, ‘No, you can’t do that. You can advertise you have an app, but the freebies, you can do that from the app.’”
Other Maine sports betting nuances
Each licensee will need to submit a responsible gaming proposal, meeting at minimum 10 criteria listed in the rules like making responsible gaming information available and clear, and a process that permits a person to place restrictions on another person with a joint bank account.
Champion also said he hopes to have provisional license applications ready to roll out by the time the public hearing is held. That could help expedite the launch process once the rules are adopted, he said.
Any hangups coming in Maine?
Whether sports betting can launch by this summer is up to the industry, Champion said. Along with the Jan. 31 hearing, the industry has until March 3 to submit written comments.
“When it comes to rulemaking, it’s all about how the industry responds,” he said. “Fantasy sports took a year. A lot of what they’re going to read, you can bring up in any state. If they want to change things, they need to bring some rationale.”
After the public comment process, the rules are submitted to the Attorney General’s office, which has 120 days to review. Then the Secretary of State can adopt the rules and Champion said it is likely licenses will be issued around the time of adoption.
Operators unknown for Maine sports betting
Casinos will be home to two retail sportsbooks in Maine, one at the Penn Entertainment-owned Hollywood Casino in Bangor and another at the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Oxford Casino Hotel in Oxford. There can be up to 10 retail sportsbooks when including the state’s off-track betting facilities.
There are up to four skins for online operators in Maine, one tied to each of the four tribes. The tribes, however, do not have to use all four skins. Champion will not know their plans until the applications are turned in.
“It is up to the tribes. They can use all four with each partnering with their own operator, or one operator could handle three of the tribes with another partnering with the other tribe,” Champion said. “It’s a possibility the tribes won’t use all four skins, but they are the only entities that can use them.”