Maine Senate Committee Hears Sports Betting Testimony

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Maine lawmakers began hearing process Friday to consider legalizing sports betting that delayed by two years thanks to governor’s veto.

The Senate Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs held its first hearing on four sports betting bills, highlighted by Sen. Louis Luchini-led SB 1352. That bill mirrors the legislation passed by the Maine legislature in 2019 but vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills. The House had upheld the veto.

The majority of stakeholders- including lawmakers, constituents, sportsbook operators- reiterated support in Friday’s meeting for sports betting in Maine.

Maine lawmakers are divided between an online model that would serve as a skin for a retail establishment or the one that could allow the uncapped number of mobile sportsbooks.

The other three separate proposals include LD 1404, which regulates sports betting and helps strengthens public education. LD 1405, which seeks to regulate taxes and operators. And, LD 1527, which ensures oversight of the industry in the state.

What Changes Does Luchini’s Bill Propose?

Luchini’s SB 1352 would authorize any qualified operator to apply for a license as a standalone sportsbook, without having to partner with a land-based property. The Democrat lawmaker, who almost led the similar proposal through the finishing line before it was vetoed by the governor in 2019, said on Friday hearing his measure would create a “free-market approach” to legal betting. He argued his bill would digital sportsbooks to avoid retail partners’ tethering fees.

“So, while the host license gets the subsidy from the online app, it is the tens of thousands of Maine gamblers- our constituent- who will be paying that by having worse odd payouts from their wagers,” Luchini said.

Luchini’s proposal would make the Pine Tree State only the country’s third untethered digital sports betting market, after Tennessee and Wyoming. It would also be the first untethered online market with retail betting.

Jackson’s Tethered Model

Luchini’s untethered model contrasts Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson’s more traditional model of requiring tethered partnerships with existing establishments for any digital sportsbook before launching in Maine.

The Pine Tree State has two casino racetracks, four tribal gaming establishments, and nearly six off-track betting facilities. All these could open retail and digital sportsbooks under Jackson’s proposal.

Penn National Vice President Jeff Morris, who testified against Luchini’s untethered model, said it would have a negligible benefit to bettors’ at the expense of opening the state to bad sports betting actors. Morris cited Tennessee Action 24/7, which had its license suspended due to its alleged involvement in illegal activities. Action 24/7 is the nation’s only standalone digital sportsbook.

Penn National, which operates a casino in Bangor, would open its Barstool Sportsbook once the legal option is available in Maine. Many other brick-and-mortar gaming facilities in the state, including Churchill Downs’ Scarborough Downs, favored sports betting in general. But they remained either neutral or opposed to the untethered model during Friday’s hearing.

What’s Next in Maine Sports Betting?

The committee will now begin the work session process to consider aspects of all four bills and present them as one to the legislature. Lawmakers will then work toward a proposal that earns Mill’s signature this time.

However, no time timetable has been set and no votes have been taken to move any of the four bills out of committee.

However, the final legislation is most likely to include retail sports betting, at least for the state’s existing in-person gaming facilities. Gambling Control Unit Chair Steven Silver testified Friday that Maine’s population is the nation’s oldest by median average, and would prefer retail options to online options.

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