June 07, 2020
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Lawmakers: lottery games not expansion of gambling

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine may get another big jackpot lottery game, Mega Millions, if lawmakers approve a proposal discussed by the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

“More lottery games is something we will definitely look at,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, co-chair of the panel. “I think there is some support, and concerns, on this committee for keno.”

Diamond said Maine already is deeply involved in gambling and another lottery game is not really an expansion, just doing more of the same.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, said he doubts there are any gambling “fans” on the committee, but another lottery game is really not an expansion.

“The actual selling of tickets through the same machinery without more equipment and staff is just a continuation of going down the same path we have gone before,” he said. “That’s very different from new areas of gambling.”

The committee received several ideas from the Legal and Veteran’s Affairs Committee with each having varying degrees of support on that panel. They included having the lottery offer the Mega Millions game and a keno game. They also suggested allowing table games at Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

“Any expansion of gambling will need the approval of the voters,” Gov. John Baldacci said earlier this month when the LVA Committee was discussing gambling options. “I will not support expansion without voter approval.”

Baldacci said his concern also extends to keno, an online game that would work similarly to Powerball and Megabucks, but the drawing of winning numbers occurs every 10 minutes or so, instead of a couple of times a week like the existing online games. It would require a new online system to be developed.

The game is aimed at social gathering areas, such as restaurants and bars, where a video display would allow patrons to check to see if they have a winning ticket.

Thirteen states now have keno games as part of their state lottery operations and State Lottery Director Dan Gwadosky estimated a Maine keno game would have sales of $8.4 million in the first year, yielding about $2.4 million for the state.

When asked whether he considered Mega Millions an expansion of gambling that would need voter approval, Baldacci said he has not decided whether it should be an issue for the voters. He said he wanted a “briefing” on the game before deciding his position.

The Mega Millions game is now in 33 states and has the same large jackpots as Powerball. All of the states in New England, except Maine, have decided to add the Mega Millions game to Powerball and other online gambling they offer.

“We will lose some sales when there is a big [Mega Millions] jackpot and New Hampshire has the game and we don’t,” Gwadosky said under questioning from the committee. “Some folks will go over to buy a ticket in New Hampshire.”

He told the panel there would be some “cannibalization” of revenue from other lottery games, but that lawmakers could count on about $125,000 a month in net new revenues by adding Mega Millions. He acknowledged that is a “conservative” estimate of what the revenues may be from the game.

The argument of lost revenue to New Hampshire was cited by Baldacci for his support for adding the Powerball game to the state lottery in 2004.

“The Mega Millions game was the unanimous or near unanimous recommendation of the LVA committee,” Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, said. “So that is something we are going to give very serious consideration to. I am not ready to vote for it now, but we will seriously consider it.”

She said it is still early in the budget writing process and she is pleased all ideas for additional revenue are getting public discussion now and not at the end of the process.

“I expect that we will be asking Mr. Gwadosky’s shop to do some more research and analysis for us,” said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport. He said Republicans are not excited about using additional gambling revenue, but many are not convinced another Lottery Commission game is a real expansion.

“The Appropriations Committee hates to give up revenue that we don’t have to give up,” Cain said.

The panel hopes to complete work on a revised state budget next month.

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