After Vegas conference, lawmakers eye looser gambling laws in Maine including online lottery sales

Posted Jan. 15, 2012, at 2:40 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 16, 2012, at 8:48 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Three members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee attended a meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gambling States earlier this month and all agree Maine needs to move swiftly to update its gambling laws and take advantage of new flexibility.

“I think we will be spending a lot of time with the Attorney General,” said Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden. “There are so many changes and policy decisions that we have to make. There is so much happening, it is just amazing.”

She said a U.S. Justice Department ruling last month dominated the discussion at the conference. The department reversed its interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act that banned online gambling and said state lotteries are not prohibited from offering online wagering within their state.

“That means we could sell lottery tickets online, people could buy their tickets from home and never visit a retailer and that also has an impact,” Plowman said. “What would that mean to a mom and pop store that depends on the traffic they get from selling lottery tickets? We have to answer a lot of questions.”

Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, also attended the meeting held in Las Vegas. All three lawmakers had their expenses paid by the council, which is seeking to have Maine join the group. She said the meeting provided a huge amount of information about all sorts of gambling and many sessions focused on the Justice Department statement.

“This is big,” she said. “We need to bring in the lottery, we need to bring in [Gambling Control Board] Director [Patrick] Fleming, we need the Attorney General to be involved and we are going to have to make a lot of policy decisions.”

Valentino said there were also a lot of unanswered questions raised at the conference. For example, she said, some experts believe a state could set up an Internet gambling site for an international market even though they could not allow residents of other states to gamble on the site.

“There are policy implications, there are financial implications,” she said.

Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor, said he was impressed at the expertise at the meeting and agreed the state needs to move swiftly to address the many policy questions raised by the Justice Department’s change of view.

“We’ve got two facilities in this state that could be impacted by an increase in Internet gambling,” he said. “Not that we don’t have Internet gambling now, because we do. Just go up to the university and look at all of the online poker games being played.”

Damon said at the conference it was clear about half the industry thought the development would be good, and the other half thought it would be bad. He said the state needs to carefully review all of the possible impacts on Maine and decide policy that is sensible.

“I don’t believe we are prepared to handle it now,” he said. “Not at all.”

Valentino agreed and said, as in many areas, the state is playing catch-up when it comes to technology. She said in Europe there is betting done from a person’s living room as they are watching a soccer match on whether the player will make a penalty kick.

“It’s all going to change,” she said. “We are going to see tablets like iPads that are handed to someone when they go in to a casino with all the games loaded on it. No more big slot machines, it will all be on one device.”

Plowman said the state needs to look at how it oversees gambling and consider if it should be placed under one agency. She said with more complex forms of gambling, the state will need to have better oversight and investigation capacity.

Damon said while there may be some policy questions that need to be decided during this session, he believes the scope of the issues warrant a separate committee or commission.

“Like with LD 1 where we had a special committee just to deal with regulatory reform, I think that’s what we need to deal with all of the gambling issues,” he said.

The three lawmakers will present their findings to the full committee later this week.

 

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