Maine lawmakers introduced four pieces of legislation this year each seeking to legalize sports betting. But last week, three were tossed out of committee.
On Friday, the Legislature Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs rejected three articles that sought to expand gaming in the state by way of sports gambling. The decision came after committee members agreed to work on another sports wagering statute introduced by Sen. Louis Luchini (D-Hancock).
The goal, for the state politicians who want to allow legal sports gambling in Maine, is to present Gov. Janet Mills (D) with a bill she will sign. In January of 2020, the first-term governor rejected a sports betting bill passed by the Legislature.
“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,” Mills explained of her decision at the time. “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.”
Mills added that she was concerned that the law did not include adequate provisions to assure that underage people would not be able to access the online sports betting platforms.
Mills has voiced worry that many sports betting and daily fantasy sports television commercials and online advertising campaigns seem to target youth. Luchini, who chairs the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, says lawmakers will work collaboratively to develop a sports betting law that provides protections for children.
“Sports betting can’t be marketed towards kids. That was a big issue for the governor, and rightfully so,” Luchini said recently.
Another key component is whether online sports betting should be tethered to brick-and-mortar casinos and pari-mutuel betting facilities. That’s something the state’s two casinos — Hollywood Casino Bangor and Oxford Casino Hotel — have lobbied for.
Luchini, however, favors an untethered model that would allow sportsbooks to apply for mobile operating rights without having a brick-and-mortar retail presence.
It’s more of a free-market competitive style,” Luchini opined. “My priority is not to help the casinos make more money. It’s to help the Maine bettors to have the best options that they can.”
Penn National Gaming, the operator of Hollywood, says a free-for-all mobile sports betting market will cause problems.
“Allowing an unlimited number of [sports betting] licensees in Maine, many without an extensive framework of security, could result in significant regulatory burden for the state and fraudulent activity or predatory practices,” said Jeff Morris, Penn National’s vice president of public affairs and government relations.
Luchini’s early 2021 sports betting bill draft suggests that each approved online sportsbook operator pay $20,000 a year to the state for such gaming privileges.
The legislation — Senate Paper 1532 — does afford a tax benefit for the casinos. For land-based sportsbooks at Hollywood or Oxford, or pari-mutuel venues, the gross gaming revenue tax on sports betting would be 10 percent. For online sportsbook revenues, a 16 percent tax would be implemented.
Fiscal projections say Maine could stand to receive $5 million annually in new tax revenue from legalizing sports betting once the market is fully up and running.
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