AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers will soon consider a bill that would allow the state to sell lottery tickets over the Internet, a move supporters believe could increase revenue and discourage in-state buyers from purchasing tickets from other states.
LD 1880, which was only recently submitted, would allow the state to engage in online lottery sales no sooner than September 2013. Between now and then, the state’s director of alcoholic beverages and lottery operations must submit a proposal for how to set up a system.
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing next Monday before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.
Earlier this year, lawmakers were alerted to the expansion of online gambling made possible by a new ruling by the U.S. Department of Justice. That ruling reversed the DOJ’s interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act that banned online gambling and said state lotteries are not prohibited from offering online wagering within their state.
Many states moved quickly to allow online sales and Maine aims to become the latest.
Three lawmakers — Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, and Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor — attended a conference in Las Vegas in January to hear about the latest changes in the gambling industry. All three said they were left with the idea that online gambling, such as online poker and Internet sale of lottery tickets, is poised to explode.
“This is a very sophisticated business that we need to catch up on; that was a stark reality,” Plowman said in January.
With the introduction of the new bill, which Plowman has sponsored, it looks as though the Legislature will pass this year on a comprehensive bill that sets gambling regulation policy for the future.
Since casino proposals first cropped up in Maine, the Legislature has been mostly reactive in terms of policy. All measures have gone out to a statewide vote, but among about a dozen initiatives in the last decade and a half, only two have passed.
Hollywood Casino in Bangor has been in operation since 2005. A casino in Oxford County was approved in 2010 and is under construction.
During the November 2011 election, voters rejected two proposals that would have drastically expanded gambling in Maine.
Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, the lead Democrat on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, agreed that the bill is really a placeholder for more comprehensive legislation down the road.
“This is an area of the law and an industry that is changing rapidly,” he said. “We want to make sure Maine is not left behind.”
Carey said his biggest concern is the potential impact of online sales on thousands of corner stores across the state that sell lottery tickets.
“My first priority is to make sure they’re not left behind because a federal law changed,” he said.