Maine sports betting is not coming this year too despite significant developments that saw the legislation passing through most of the stages.
The state’s 2021 legislative session adjourned Monday, with the sports betting bill – LD 1352 – still lying on the Appropriations Table, the committee responsible for reviewing all the financial bills.
It essentially means Maine sports betting will have to wait for another year to be reconsidered. The state legislature will reconvene for the next regular session on Jan. 5, 2022.
It is the second time in two years that a sports betting bill has faltered inches away from the finishing lines. In 2019, the state legislature approved a sports betting bill, which sat on Gov. Janet Mill’s desk from July of that year until Jan. 2020, when she vetoed it.
But this time, it is the state’s Senate that caused the delay as the bill needs the upper chamber’s nod before landing at Mill’s table. But it is a million dollars question if she will sign the bill this time.
What Happened to Maine Sports Betting Bill This Time?
LD 1352 was passed by the Maine House twice, after which the measure was sent early July to the Appropriations Table, where it stalled.
After 20 days of inaction, both the chambers on Thursday voted to carry certain measures to next year – LD 1352 was not included among those.
Sources say the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Louis Luchini, was no more interested in the bill because of the tethering requirement, which he had been resisting throughout. Luchini previously lashed out at the final proposal because of that requirement for digital licensees to partner with local gambling entities.
“Tethering is bad for our constituents,” the Senator said in June. “It’s anti-competitive, and makes the casinos the gatekeepers of who will be able to operate in Maine.”
The final bill, however, included the tethering aspect.
Did Lack of In-Person Meetings Hurt Maine Sports Betting?
Besides the tethering issue, the lack of in-person meetings was the biggest reason the 2021 effort failed, according to Milton Champion, the executive director of the Maine Gambling Control Unit.
Champion said it just didn’t have the punch this year, adding he never felt like there was the same interest (for sports betting) as last year. He blamed the pandemic for this.
However, he said some key issues had been ironed out, saying “it’s a matter of when, not if, for Maine sports betting.”
It now means legislation could be brought up again for discussion when the next session convenes Dec. 2, or the existing draft of sports wagering will be scraped and lawmakers will begin taking sports betting afresh.
While communicating to a news outlet, Christine Kirby, Communication Director for state Senate President Troy Jackson, said, “Sports betting will remain on the appropriation table until next year. The good news is that it doesn’t have to go through the entire process again.”
But the tethering issue will persist as the formidable local casino lobby – including Penn National – is strongly pro-tethering.
Penn said last year it backed Maine sports betting only for those who had invested millions of dollars in the state. But a majority of supporters of online betting are critically against the tethering requirement.
How Have We Reached Here?
LD 1352 began its journey as a bill – just like its 2019 counterpart – allowing for statewide retail and mobile betting, with no requirement for online platforms to be tethered to gaming venues.
But on the Senate floor, during a vote to engross the bill, it was amended to include tethering. The undesirable inclusion annoyed Luchini who attempted to kill his own bill. But LD 1352 was approved by the Senate, and the House, with some small changes to the language.
In Maine, a legislative measure must be approved as engrossed by House and Senate and then passed to be enacted by both chambers before being sent to the governor for signature.
The bill passed through the enacting phase after both chambers concurred during the engrossment phase. But since the lower chamber voted to enact, the upper chamber was slow to react.
If the bill had been approved by the Senate timely, it would have been sent to the governor. Janet would have had 10 days to either sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without her formal signature.