January 25, 2020
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Janet Mills vetoes sports betting bill, saying she’s ‘unconvinced’ Mainers want to expand gambling

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills speaks during the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce's Early Bird Breakfast in Bangor on Dec. 18.

Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that she vetoed a bill passed by the Maine Legislature that would have made Maine the 14th state to legalize, tax and regulate sports betting after it was made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Democratic governor took that step after delaying action on the bill passed by the Maine Legislature in June in one of their biggest moves of the 2019 session. It likely dooms the bill, a product of careful negotiations that passed narrowly in the Maine Senate, since a two-thirds vote in both chambers would be required to override the veto.

In her veto message, Mills said she was “unconvinced at this time” that Mainers want to expand gambling, questioning the strength of protections in the proposal for youth and others who were vulnerable to overspending on sports betting or gambling addiction.

“I appreciate the Legislature’s interest in this evolving issue and respectfully request that you sustain this veto while we closely monitor the impact of legalization and the successes and failures in other states as they seek to regulate and benefit from sports betting,” Mills said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, was a response to a 2017 decision by the high court allowing states to regulate the new sports betting market. It would have taxed online and mobile betting revenue at 16 percent and Maine-based facilities such as casinos and off-track parlors at 10 percent.

It would have been a liberal policy compared to the group states that have moved to allow sports betting. Only five states are live with mobile betting now, according to DraftKings, including New Hampshire, which launched betting Dec. 30 and saw a quarter-million dollars wagered on the first day. Maine legalized betting on fantasy sports in 2017.

On Friday, Luchini, who co-chairs the Legislature’s gambling committee, said Mills took a “really thoughtful and thorough approach” to analyzing the measure and he was “willing to work with her on any provisions that would make it a better bill.” But Rep. Scott Strom of Pittsfield, the lead House Republican on the panel, noted that Maine will lose out to its neighbor.

“Western Maine now can literally just cross the border,” Strom said. “It’s free money and it’s just freedom.”

Debate in the Legislature centered on whether mobile betting would be allowed outright or tethered to physical facilities such as the casino in Bangor and Oxford or off-track betting parlors, with those entities and mobile betting sites jousting for disproportionate shares.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, who opposed the final version of the bill, said Friday out-of-state groups were “putting a lot of pressure” on lawmakers and cheered Mills’ decision. He argued for tethering in legislative debate and said he would fight for it in the future.

 



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