Maine’s Sports Betting Bill Clears Key Committee Vote

Following a meeting of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs on Friday, yet another state is on the verge of sports betting legalization.

Per reporting from WGME-13 News, members of the Committee came together to hash out differences over the regulatory setup which would underpin Maine’s proposed sportsbook industry.

The same 13-member Committee comprising both legislative chambers voted to kill off six other sports betting bills earlier this month, leaving only Legislative Draft 553 for further consideration.

Maine Sports Betting Takes Shape After Consensus Building

A shell bill in its current construction, LD-553 came closer to fruition after Friday’s hearing, during which Committee members increased the originally proposed tax rate from 10 percent to 16 percent on gross gaming revenue generated by online/mobile wagering. The 10 percent tax will still apply to revenue collected by brick and mortar bookmakers.

After the Committee voted 6 to 3 in favor of moving LD-553 forward, co-sponsor and state representative Scott Strom (R-106) told WABI-5 News that he is pleased with Maine’s progress over the ongoing legislative session:

“I’m happy that sports gambling is going forward.

I think a lot of people are already doing it, and the state’s going to get some revenue out of this. I think it’s a win-win.

We could get anywhere from 3-6 million dollars a year in revenue into our general fund by doing this. We’re always looking for more revenue in the state.

I think we could definitely use it. It’s going to be helpful.”

Lawmakers in Maine were generally amenable to the legalization of sports betting last year, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last May to repeal a federal ban on sportsbooks outside of Nevada. But with the Legislature in a special session at the time, more pressing issues like passing a budget package took precedence.

This time around – with the current legislative session scheduled to end on June 19th – state representative John Andrews (R-73) let it be known that lawmakers aren’t content to wait another year:

“I feel like it would be irresponsible to punt it to the next session.

I think we should do what we have to do while we’re still here, especially since the Supreme Court (ruling), what, a year ago?”

Milton Champion – executive director of the Gambling Control Unit (GCU), the agency which regulates casinos, daily fantasy sports, bingo, and other forms of wagering in Maine – delivered testimony in favor of LD-553 during Friday’s hearing.

Per Champion’s estimates, made before the online/mobile tax rate was increased, Maine stood to collect $380,000 in annual revenue on $3.8 million in total sportsbook handle. Those numbers will ostensibly rise given the dominance of online/mobile betting in states like New Jersey.

And while Champion did warn Committee members that the Northeast region risks market saturation, he told the Portland Press Herald that Maine can’t afford to be left behind:

“There is only so much discretionary funds available.

This, in my view, indicates that New England has or is very close to reaching its saturation point.

It is essential, however, that we have the ability to offer what the competition offers. And by competition, I am referring to other states.”

Online/Mobile “Tethering” Offers Only Split Opinions

While the nine Committee members who voted on LD-553 each support sports betting in sum, a point of divergence emerged over whether online/mobile sportsbooks should be required to partner with existing local operators.

Every state except for Tennessee – which recently approved the nation’s first online-only law  – where online/mobile sportsbooks are legal “tethers” their licenses to local land-based casinos or racetracks.

But in a separate 5 to 3 vote, a majority of Committee members backed a setup wherein third-party bookmakers like William Hill U.S., FanDuel, or DraftKings is free to enter the Maine market independently.

As he told local media outlets following the vote, Strom supports the non-tethered option:

“There is a ton of online mobile businesses that operate in the state that have no ties to brick-and-mortars.

It has been completely legal up to this point.

Nobody has ever asked them to tie to a brick-and-mortar, Amazon being the biggest.”

Don Barberino, the owner of off-track betting (OTB) facility in the city of Sanford, spoke to the Committee about his fear that larger online operators will dominate local venues:

“The casinos, the OTBs, we all have a substantial investment in the state.

We pay property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes. We are part of the community.

It is important to keep us … because we’ll get cannibalized by the (online) people.”

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