June 25, 2019
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Maine is racing toward legal sports betting, but a few key questions still must be resolved

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, seen here in 2015, is the co-chair of the legislative committee overseeing sports betting bills in 2019.

Good morning from Augusta. Maine looks like a good bet to become one of the initial states to allow sports betting after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision, but lawmakers on a legislative panel still have some thorny issues to sort out before coming to a solution.

There has been no opposition to allowing betting on professional sports, but casinos, off-track betting parlors and the mobile site DraftKings have made their cases for disproportionate shares of the new action and low tax rates because of small profit margins.

That conflict is will underlie the debate in the Legislature. On Monday, a committee largely agreed on some of the high points, but it set aside questions of whether betting should be tied to physical locations and tax rates.

The biggest issue left to settle will be whether sports betting in Maine will be tied to brick-and-mortar facilities. The Legislature’s gambling committee has already killed several bills that would have dealt with sports gambling, with one vehicle remaining that will cobble together pieces of those bills into a solution intended to get through both chambers.

Some of the other sports betting bills that the committee has considered would have tilted the regulations toward casinos or Indian tribes. It’s likely that the final version will allow those entities as well as off-tracking betting parlors and mobile sites to apply for licenses. In doing so, they would have to show financial suitability.

On Friday, the Legislature’s gambling committee settled in principle on many of the policy points, including a $20,000 licensing fee for mobile betting operations every two years alongside a $2,000 fee for physical locations.

Things could get tricky around how to treat brick-and-mortar locations versus the mobile sites that won’t be paying property taxes in Maine, which the committee has made no decisions on yet. Off-track bettors have asked for mobile betting to be tethered to brick-and-mortar facilities.

Don Berberino, who owns facilities in Waterville and Sanford, told the Legislature that mobile sites will be “eating our lunch” if it doesn’t happen. However, a lobbyist for DraftKings argued against “artificial barriers” to placing bets online.

The conflict could be resolved by allowing mobile-only sites into the market, but taxing them at a higher rate than Maine-based facilities. Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the co-chair of the gambling committee, advocated tax rates of 18 percent for mobile sites and 10 percent for brick-and-mortar facilities, though Rep. Scott Strom of Pittsfield, the leading House Republican on the panel, wanted lower rates.

It isn’t likely that sports betting will be a massive revenue opportunity for Maine. Seven states and the District of Columbia have instituted sports betting regimes since it was allowed last year. Tax rates on revenue vary from 6.75 percent in Nevada to 51 percent in Rhode Island and five of those jurisdictions allow online betting.

However, sports betting isn’t proving to be a budget panacea in most places. Rhode Island expected to get more than $11 million in revenue by June 30 but only saw $150,000 around March’s end, according to The Associated Press. When its tax rate was set, experts saw it as onerous and said it could risk losing bets across state lines.

It’s likely that sports betting will be just one of many amenities at the places that offer it and not a Maine-based industry by itself, but that’s not going to stop these rival industries from trying to get the biggest possible cut.


Today in A-town

Legislative leaders are pushing committees to complete their work by Friday, so public hearings and work sessions will dominate this week. In addition to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee digging into the aforementioned gambling bills, six other committees will meet today.

Several proposed revisions to the Maine Human Rights Act will be topic of public hearings before the Judiciary Committee. Listen here.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will take testimony on a proposal to house female inmates at the Long Creek Youth Development Center. It’s part of an ongoing discussion about the future of that South Portland correctional facility and the direction of youth incarceration in Maine. Listen here.

The education committee has nine bills on its work session agenda today. Among them are funding for Maine Public, changes to school restraint and seclusion policies and adjustments to student privacy provisions. Listen here.

Floor sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday this week. The advance calendar calls for the chambers to begin meeting more frequently next week.


Reading list

— Lawmakers, the governor’s staff and advocates are close to compromise on a bill that would allow seizure of guns from people believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. The possible bargain around a bill from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, is reminiscent of but different than a bill negotiated by Gov. Janet Mills as attorney general in 2018 that was vetoed by then-Gov. Paul LePage. It would likely be modeled after the “ blue paper” involuntary commitment process used for people with mental illness who display potentially harmful behavior. The new version is expected to appear in a bill as soon as this week. Because the bill would apply to people found to have mental illnesses, it is reduced in scope from Millett’s so-called “red flag” bill and the process used will be different from the one in a Mills-backed compromise LePage vetoed in 2018.

— Maine is gingerly moving forward with plans for recreational marijuana sales. The Associated Press reports that state regulators hope to have a sales and oversight system in place by March 2020. Maine voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2016, but implementation has stalled during years of State House wrangling. The state’s latest proposed marijuana rules will be the subject of a public hearing in Portland on Thursday to gather input on issues such as cultivation, licensure and retail sales. After the hearing, the rules could be provisionally adopted, said David Heidrich, spokesman for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which includes the state marijuana office. Protecting small growers and restoring the option for social clubs are among the options to be considered.

— A waste-processing plant in Hampden is expected to be fully operational in July, about a year later than planned. Fiberight, which serves 115 communities, has begun testing and operating the front end of its plant, where specialized equipment separates recyclables from other types of waste. Before its July 1 opening, Fiberight still needs to complete the setup of its back end, which includes a pulper that will break down different types of waste, an area where materials will be washed and an anaerobic digester that will convert food and other organic waste into biogas.


What’s the buzz?

Today is World Bee Day. That’s not to be confused with World Bidet, as one helpful British wag who’s obsessed with puns and French pronunciation recently pointed out.

My family has had a testy relationship with bees. On a long drive to visit our grandfather, a bee flew in the window of our family station wagon and stung my brother. He started swelling up, so we had to quickly detour to find a pharmacy that had something to reverse the reaction. I give the bee credit for hitting a moving target inside a moving vehicle, but my brother was a bit of a wailer at that time, so I’m still mad at that bee for making us have to listen to his bawling in a small enclosed space for more than an hour.

A few years later, many inhabitants of a nest of yellow jackets flew up the legs of my other brother’s pants, stinging him multiple times. Luckily, he was not a sweller — or a wailer. My mother asked him why he was limping when he came inside and he showed her more than a dozen stings. A couple of the bees that chose not to target his legs stung his torso and cheeks. But he stoically told my mom that he still wasn’t going to wear shorts, even though the bees had used his long pants against him.

When I was in my 20s, hundreds of bees decided to take up residence in the wall of a small house I was renting. Their collective buzzing would get louder as the evening wore on, creating ominous distractions. Adventurous bees would work their way into the house through metal light fixtures, which would amplify the sound of their buzzing with frightening Hitchcock-style suspense. The buzzing would echo through the room before the bee made its entry. It was both impressive and unnerving.

My relationship with bees now is much more congenial. I recognize their value as pollinators and do what I can to ensure that the parts of the environment over which I have any control are conducive to their longevity. My wife, whose name means “bee,” keeps suggesting that we get hives, but that would probably ensure that my brothers never, ever visit.

Come to think of it … Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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