Supporters of Maine becoming the first state in 2020 to legalize sports betting have been dealt a significant blow following the decision by Governor Janet Mills at the weekend to veto LD 553, the enabling bill that has been on her desk since last June. The veto can, however, be overturned by legislature, but would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. 

Mills’ decision to block the bill’s progress was confirmed in a public statement in which she wrote: “Pursuant to the authority vested in me by Article IV, Part Third, Section 2 of the Maine Constitution, I am vetoing LD 553, An Act to Ensure Proper Oversight of Sports Betting in the State.”

She added that while the Supreme Court had given states the go-ahead to regulate sports wagering, it does not mean they have to. 

“I respect the long hours and hard work that the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs put into this bill following its submission as a concept draft and the number of work sessions in which the Committee tried to combine the best of several bills on this difficult subject matter,” she noted. 

“And I believe this bill is a good effort by those who wish to bring out into the open a black market activity that is practiced by many now and who want to regulate that activity without over-regulating or over-taxing it so as to drive it back underground. The bill is a step forward towards achieving that delicate balance. But respectfully, I remain unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on athletic events.”

The Governor went on to call for more consideration of how sports betting will impact the state, saying: “Before Maine joins the frenzy of states hungry to attract this market, I believe we need to examine the issue more clearly; better understand the evolving experiences of other states; and thoughtfully determine the best approach for Maine. That approach needs to protect youthful gamblers and those least able to absorb losses under a closely regulated scheme.”

Mills also poured cold water on some of the revenue projections from sports betting. “We are also told that the state can access new revenues by legalizing sports betting,” she wrote. “But for the more than dozen states that have enacted legislation regarding this form of gambling, revenues have fallen far short of projections for a variety of reasons, and the economic impact of mobile sports gambling on pre-existing facilities, given the potential saturation in the market, is uncertain.

“In addition, while legalized sports gambling may attract some revenue to the state coffers, the same economic premise in theory would justify legalizing all forms of gambling – betting on the weather, spelling bees and school board elections, for instance.”

She added: “Finally, we are also told that Maine needs to legalize sports gambling in order to preserve its existing market share in the betting industry. That premise is still speculative, and, in any event, merits a longer term analysis given the constantly changing dynamics of gambling in New England.”

Commentary: Governor Mills’ veto is perplexing and frustrating in equal measure for proponents of legalized sports betting in Maine. Clearly she is aware of the need to bring the activity out of black market hands and into the light, but falls short of actually pressing the button to start that process. 

As for the concerns over revenue, well they’re largely academic when placed in the context of a state that is already engaged in sports betting, but doing so illegally and, ironically, making no contribution whatsoever to state coffers. 

One thing is certain, if an override vote fails to overturn the Governor’s veto, that black market activity will continue for the foreseeable future. Maine’s sports bettors will remain exposed to potential sharp practice with no recourse and, crucially, no safety net in place for them if things go wrong. 

But perhaps the most telling part of Mills’ veto statement was the observation that Maine doesn’t have to regulate sports betting, even though it is legally entitled to do so. That, and the constant reference to ‘sports gambling’ as opposed to ‘sports betting’, suggests an approach that is overtly cool to the whole concept of a regulated sector.