Maine Sports Betting Bill Not Signed, Future Uncertain

Maine Sports Betting Bill Not Signed, Future Uncertain

Maine Gov. Janet Mills reportedly did not sign a sports betting legalization bill that had bipartisan support from lawmakers – and from the majority of Mills’ fellow Democrats in the legislature. By failing to sign the bill by Tuesday’s deadline, Maine sports betting will likely be delayed for several months in a best-case scenario, and the very future of the bill remains uncertain.

The legalization measure went through multiple revisions in the Senate, where lawmakers weighed the interests of the state’s establishment, land-based gaming facilities with those of online-focused third-party vendors. Led by Senate Sen. Louis Luchini, co-chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee which first took up the bill, legislators reached consensus on a bill that balanced the competing interests and eventually garnered enough support to pass through the Senate.

This seemed the pivotal hurdle to reach a bill that could finish the legislative process – until Tuesday evening.

Lawmakers typically don’t take up contentious bills if they don’t have the support of that state’s governor, and it's even rarer for lawmakers to fight for a doomed bill when both the legislature and governor’s mansion are controlled by the same party. With the backing of a key Senate leader in Luchini, a Democrat, as well as no serious opposition in the House, the bill seemed sure to secure Mills’ signature.

That was not the case. Maine law allows a “pocket veto” or a way for Mills to kill the measure without a signature or a veto.

By state law, the governor has 10 business days to either sign or veto a piece of legislation if sent to their desk after a legislative session adjourns. If the governor takes no action, the bill dies. This pocket veto, unlike a traditional veto, is not subject to a legislature override.

Since the bill arrived after the 2019 session concluded, Mills had the ability to exercise the pocket veto. Because of this, Maine visitors and residents will have to wait longer to place a legal sports bet, possibly up to a year (or more).

Possible Ways to Revive Bill

That doesn’t mean the bill is dead and buried.

The Associated Press reports lawmakers are set to conduct a summer legislative session to discuss issues not resolved during the regularly scheduled session that concluded last month. If called, it could give a lifeline to the bill.

If the session lasts more than four days, the governor then must give a traditional veto of the bill to the legislation’s chamber of origin. That means the Senate would have a chance to override the veto measure.

This could be a harder sell than had the bill originated in the House, which passed the measure with such overwhelming support it only necessitated a voice vote. The Senate only passed the bill on a 19-15 vote.

It will require 24 Senators to override the veto.

If the Senate can’t procure the 24 votes during the summer session – or if it doesn’t last for at least four days – the bill will have to be reintroduced in the future, which will likely not be before 2020.

Maines Falls Behind Regional Race

Even in an optomistic scenario for the bill's prospects, Maine seems like it will slip further behind in the New England sports betting expansion race.

Legislatures in Rhode Island and New Hampshire have both already passed sports betting bills, while Connecticut and Massachusetts have both introduced legislation to do the same. Following Mid-Atlantic states which already take wagers now including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware, the Northeast has emerged as another frontier for U.S. sports betting expansion.

Rhode Island was one of the first states to take in-person wagers, and was one of the first statehouses in the nation to approve online options when lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the measure earlier this year. Following its neighbor’s footsteps, New Hampshire lawmakers advanced a robust online and in-person wagering bill this year, and it is now waiting on what seems like a formality in the signature of Gov. Chris Sununu so it can also take bets.

With support for gaming also still percolating in Hartford and Boston, it seemed the moves just across its borders would compel Maine, and it’s governor, to keep up with sports betting developments, lest it lose out on its slice of the estimated $150 billion national market.

Instead, it appears a delayed implementation is just one challenge among many for legal betting in the Pine Tree State.

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