Patrons watch horse races on a wall of televisions at Favorites, an off-track betting site in Sanford. Owner Don Barberino, who also owns an off-track betting site in Waterville, says neither location will be ready to accommodate sports betting until the first quarter of 2024. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The launch of sports betting in Maine is less than two months away, but several of the in-person locations where fans can place bets will not be ready when the state goes live.

At least two off-track betting sites are in the process of moving to new locations in anticipation of more customers when sports betting is launched in November. Managers of the operations at Cumberland Fairgrounds and Favorites Off-Track Betting in Waterville said they won’t be able to accommodate sports betting until December or early 2024.

Maine’s sports betting law went into effect in August 2022, but the launch of business first required devising detailed rules for governing the betting operations in Maine. Those rules are awaiting approval from the state attorney general’s office.

Milt Champion, head of the agency that oversees gambling in the state, said Friday in written responses to questions from the Press Herald that he expects Maine to go live in November. Once the AG’s office approves the rules, Champion said he will award licenses for sports-betting providers and operators that have requested them, and fans in Maine will be able to start placing bets online or in person. He said he anticipates that most licenses initially awarded will be temporary while background investigations are completed.

The state’s indigenous tribes have exclusive rights to conduct online wagering. Champion, executive director of the state’s Gambling Control Unit, said that Caesars Sportsbook, which has a partnership with the Penobscot, Maliseet and Micmac tribes to run their mobile betting operation, has applied for a license. He said BetMGM has reached an agreement with two in-person locations but has yet to apply for a license.

Champion has estimated that sports betting will generate $3.8 million to $6 million annually for the state. While most of the total revenue will come from online bets – 87% nationally in 2021, according to the American Gaming Association – there are also locations for in-person betting, which consist of casinos in Oxford and Bangor and off-track betting locations in Bangor, Waterville, Sanford, Lewiston and the Cumberland Fairgrounds. The tribes will not be involved with in-person betting.


When betting goes live in November, however, at least three of those spots – in Waterville, Sanford and Cumberland – won’t be ready right away. Michael Cianchette, who manages the racing in Cumberland, said the fairgrounds’ betting operations are relocating.

“It has to be in Cumberland County, so we’re down to about three towns in the greater Portland area,” Cianchette said. “It needs some renovations. Given the facility requirements that the state established in the rules, we have to meet those. Now that the rules are near final and we know what those requirements actually are, we do have some fit-up to do. But it’s not new construction out of the ground.”

Cianchette said he anticipates the new location being ready in December at the earliest.

“It’s very close. If the state said tomorrow, ‘Turn the switch on,’ we won’t be on yet,” he said. “Our scope is hopefully the end of this calendar year, or early next year. So right around the turn of the year.”


The move is part of a larger venture, as Cianchette said there are also plans to build a new harness racing facility in southern Maine. While Cianchette declined to disclose the location for the new track, he said it will open in 2025 or 2026, and that he hopes adding sports betting will lead to more interest in the racing being broadcast simultaneously.


“The intent would be that (the sportsbook) would be the mothership, and we’d have the opportunity to get people interested in live racing and sports all at the same time,” he said. “The horse racing is going to be on the TVs, just like all the other sports. … Part of our strategy is to say, ‘Hey, if you really want to place a wager and know how it resolves relatively quickly, a harness race is over in two minutes.’ It’s another sport in the broader picture.”

Cianchette said customers at the new sports-betting location in Cumberland County will feel like they’re going to a sports bar.

“They’ll have self-serve opportunities where they can buy a ticket through a machine, and if it’s something where they’ve never done it before and they want to understand what over/under means or anything like that, we’ll have staff there that’s knowledgeable, that’s licensed, that can explain it,” he said. “It’s not a casino, it’s a sportsbook. They’ll see a lot of TVs. It may be a little more lively than a sports bar, just because someone may get really excited that the Detroit Lions caught an interception. … It’ll be a different flavor of energy, but it’ll be like going out to watch the games with friends and family.”

Favorites off-track betting sites in Waterville and Sanford are both run by Pioneer Gaming, owned by Don Barberino, who plans to move the Waterville OTB to a bigger site to accommodate sports-betting fans.

Ashley Tripp, bartender and weekend manager at Favorites in Sanford, pours a beer from behind the bar while televisions display horse races. The off-track betting site on Main Street will not accommodate sports betting until at least early 2024, says owner Don Barberino, until renovations are completed. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It’s going to be like a really exciting sports bar. There’ll be TVs everywhere, and the games will be on. Just a big, fun place,” said Barberino, who didn’t disclose exactly where Favorites will move other than to say it will remain in Waterville. “I think we’ll draw a lot more people to wager on horse racing, which is our primary objective. And we’ll have a nice restaurant, so that’ll be a draw in itself. It’ll be a completely different experience.”

Drew Kelly, a teller at Favorites in Waterville, said the current site typically gets seven to eight customers at a time on weekdays. During bigger race days like the Kentucky Derby, the place can get full, with 20 to 25 people in attendance in addition to the bettors who stop in just to place their wagers before leaving.


He said he’s noticed that customers are “chomping at the bit” for sports betting, and that he’s anticipating higher turnout.

“A lot of people don’t even know we’re here. We’re just a hole in the wall,” said Kelly, who added that the new location will be “two to three times” the size of the current one. “I’m anticipating quite an increase. … (For) the Tuesday game of the night for basketball or baseball, I don’t expect a ton. I expect a really big pickup for football, playoffs, Sunday NFL. From what I understand in New Hampshire, it’s like a zoo. They have so many tellers working (and) long lines.”


Steven Silver, the chair of Maine’s Gambling Control Board, said he expects sports betting to be a boost for the retail locations.

“It will certainly drive business to the OTBs,” he said. “It’s a much different audience. A number of Mainers will be maybe curious if they’ve never placed a bet, or if they’ve placed a bet in other states, they’ll go.”

Silver, however, said business gains could be lower than some places expect, particularly given the dominance of online betting.


“I do not think it’s going to be a windfall that many operators think (it’ll be),” he said. “Retail lags significantly behind mobile. … (And) it’s a pretty thin profit margin. The national hold, what the sportsbook essentially wins, is hovering around 7% right now. That’s what we’re talking about.

Bill Rice, of North Waterboro, watches a televised horse race from Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto while seated at Favorites in Sanford. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Barberino, who owns both the Waterville and Sanford OTB locations, said neither one will be ready until the first quarter of 2024. While Sanford isn’t moving from its location on Main Street, Barberino said there are still renovations being done, including the reconfiguration of a storage room for more space and a new teller station.

He said both locations will receive new self-serve kiosks and televisions, and that Waterville will hire more workers to assist with customer service and guiding novice bettors. Barberino said the potential for bigger crowds of sports fans was the driving force behind the move.

“This is too small. We absolutely needed a bigger place,” he said of the current Waterville location. “I think we’re going to create a destination that people talk about and that people want to come to. … It gives us an opportunity to introduce horse racing to a new crowd. People that might only pay attention to racing during the Kentucky Derby, hopefully in addition to coming to play sports, they’ll also come and play the races.”

Hollywood Casino in Bangor, which also owns the city’s OTB location, declined a request to speak about preparations for Maine’s live sports betting launch. Matt Gallagher, the general manager of the Oxford Casino, and Jim Day, the president of Winner’s Circle OTB in Lewiston, did not respond to interview requests.

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