AUGUSTA — The state House of Representatives voted Tuesday to sustain Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of a bill that would have legalized sports betting in Maine.

Tuesday’s 85-57 House tally fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, and came less than a week after the state Senate voted to override by a one-vote margin, 30-10. The measure, approved by lawmakers last year, would have made Maine the 22nd state to legalize online and in-person wagering on sports.

The bill would have allowed online entities like Draft Kings and others to obtain a state license for legal online sports betting that could be done with a mobile device from any location. Sports wagers could also be made at casinos or off-track betting parlors.

The 57 votes in support of the veto, came from a near-even split of  28 Republicans and 27 Democrats, plus two independents. The 85 votes in favor of the override included 25 Republicans, 56 Democrats and four independents.

Bill critics have cited moral opposition to expanding gambling in Maine, as well as support for the state’s two casinos, in Oxford and Bangor. Casino operators favor tethering sports betting to physical locations, including off-track betting facilities.

“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,” Mills wrote in a Jan. 10 veto message to lawmakers. “That approach needs to balance the desire to suppress gambling activities now being conducted illegally and the need to protect youthful gamblers and those least able to absorb losses under a closely regulated scheme.”

Supporters of the bill argued that Mainers already bet illegally on sports online. They said Maine should follow 21 other states that have legalized sports betting following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled states have the right to regulate and tax the activity.

“We can’t legislate fun and people have fun doing this and they are going to do it whether we legalize it or not,” state Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship.

New Hampshire recently legalized sports betting and in the first month of operation, which included the Super Bowl, it took in $20 million in wagers from more than 34,000 people. The state’s share of that was $1.2 million, according to Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield, a co-sponsor of the Maine bill who voted to override Mills’ veto.

“Adults know how to spend their money and should be able to do so as they choose fit,” Strom said. “We already allow betting on horse racing in Maine and I consider that a sport and I see no reason not to allow betting on other sports as well.”

Strom also said the bill recognized the investment Maine’s casino operators have made in buildings and staff, wages to workers and property and income taxes. The bill would have taxed revenue from sports betting in casinos at 10 percent, while online sports-betting entities would have been taxed at 16 percent.

Estimates of what sports betting might be worth in Maine vary, but a fiscal note attached to the bill suggested that if it were fully implemented, the state would collect as much as $5 million a year in fees and taxes. However, sports betting revenue has fallen dramatically short of forecasts in several states that legalized it in 2018 and 2019.

The issue is unlikely to resurface in 2020 unless both the House and Senate agree to bring another bill forward, Mills submits another bill; or the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee votes to bring a new bill forward.

Sen. Louis Luchini, an Ellsworth Democrat who chairs the committee and was the primary sponsor of the bill, L.D. 553, said he was disappointed that the veto was sustained, and that there was little appetite for a new bill this year.

Luchini said the casino industry in Maine, which employs about 1,400 people, had a strong influence in the Legislature.

“The casinos have very deep pockets and they are tough to lobby against so the casinos won this one,” Luchini said. “This was a chance for us to actually do something that we know is coming, to get ahead of the train and do this. I just hope we are not the last state to do this.”

 

 

 

 

 

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