You may not have noticed it, but Gov. Janet Mills recently made a decision that likely made her sole neighboring governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, chortle with glee: She vetoed a bill that would have allowed Mainers to bet on sports. Indeed, after Mills’ veto, Gov. Sununu’s statement was straight and to the point: “New Hampshire is open for business.”

New Hampshire, you see, has had the foresight to legalize sports betting, so Mainers who want to gamble legally can simply drive down there and do it. By vetoing similar legislation in Maine, Mills has essentially cut a giant check and mailed it off to Concord.

One would think that an administration that seems to be dedicated to spending as much money as it could would be eager for additional revenue, but Mills dismissed that concern in her veto message. She claims that other states that have legalized sports betting haven’t seen nearly the tax revenue that projections anticipated, and she may indeed be right. Government forecasts — whether of costs or new revenue — are frequently overly optimistic. However, expanding legalizing gambling isn’t some massive new program that could cost way more to run than expected — the biggest cost concern is that it might not generate quite as much revenue as hoped. Still, getting any revenue from it would be better than sending that money to New Hampshire.

She also raises a legitimate concern about the potential for young people to engage in gambling, but the bill already addresses that by prohibiting it for those under 21. Mobile betting apps, such as DraftKings, also have security mechanisms, like requiring users to enter their names, dates of birth and part of their Social Security number as verification. Certainly none of these systems will ever perfectly prevent all young people from gambling, but our current regulations for other activities aren’t foolproof either. If we’re going to legalize any activity for only those over a certain age, no regulatory regime is ever going to be perfect, but the logical solution isn’t to keep it illegal for everyone — it’s to create the best system we possibly can. To their credit, the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs seems to have done that as they worked on the legislation Mills vetoed.

Really, Mills’ arguments in her veto message weren’t a good enough reason to simply reject the bill out of hand. If she had specific concerns about the legislation as it was written, she could have worked more closely with the Legislature as it was being drafted. It seems as if, rather than being a real reason to veto the bill, Mills’ concerns are more justifications after the fact for a decision already made.

They also smack more broadly of paternalism: the idea that a broader group has not only the right, but also the responsibility to regulate a person’s individual behavior for their own good. That idea is prevalent throughout Mills’ veto message, but especially notable when she says she’s not sure most Mainers are ready to legalize sports betting. She’s not just taking a politician’s way out of backing something controversial by hiding behind public opinion: Instead, she’s declaring that she thinks she knows what public opinion already is. That’s paternalism at its finest, and it can be pernicious in both parties at times. It’s what many conservatives and libertarians mean when they rail against big government or the nanny state. It’s the basic philosophy behind almost every attempt by the government to ban or overly regulate individual liberties, whether it’s coming from the left or the right.

Besides the problematic philosophical grounding of Mills’ argument against gambling, it ignores the reality that Mainers who want to gamble will find a way to do so, whether legally or not. As with recreational marijuana, it’s far better to have a safe, well-regulated, legal market for adults to engage in betting rather than a totally unregulated, illegal one. It not only costs more money to keep sports betting illegal, it also makes Mainers less safe — in addition to being less free.

Hopefully, the Legislature will recognize this and come together to uphold the bipartisan work done by the committee and override Mills’ veto. With other states already moving more rapidly than Maine to take advantage of the opportunity to legalize sports betting, we shouldn’t delay any longer. We can always tweak the regulations in the future if necessary, but we can never get back tax revenue that the state never collected in the first place.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.