- Gambling already has a presence in Maine, with two commercial casinos in operation
- Gambling lobbyists are spending to push through new laws
- Some are pushing for legal sports betting and online gambling
- This would generate millions for the state each year
History of gambling in Maine
Harness racing has long been a popular activity in Maine and betting on these races has been legal since the 1950s. The two tracks in the state are the Hollywood Racetrack and Scarborough Downs. Both have been allowed to add slot machines to their facilities to help them continue their operations.
The state lottery has been in operation since 1974 and is still popular. It offers inter-state and New England-only games also. As a result of the Indian Regulatory Gambling Act of 1988, two high-stakes bingo casinos are operating on tribal reservation land. The tribes have been pushing in recent years for the ability to open fully operational casinos.
A state referendum in 2010 gave the go-ahead for two commercial casinos in the state. These are the Oxford Country Casino, which opened in 2012, and the Hollywood Bangor Casino, which opened in 2013.
Poker is offered at these casinos, along with the usual slot machines and table games. With online gambling and sports betting gaining popularity across the country, there is a lot of focus now in Maine on the expansion of gambling laws.
Push for gambling expansion
Several different groups want gambling laws expanded in Maine, from tribes that want to open proper casinos to those backing sports betting and online gambling. Therefore, it makes sense that significant amounts of money are going into lobbying efforts.
Gambling lobbyists are among the biggest spenders in Maine, along with utility, marijuana, and tobacco companies. Lobbyists spent about $2.8m (£2.1m) in 2018.
One of the big focuses of the state government since the Democrats got control of both the House and the Senate in the November midterms is legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana.
Many note that Maine already offers most standard forms of gambling and believe that allowing sports betting is a logical step. Several sports betting bills have already been discussed.
Each of these bills has different provisions. Some call for giving licenses to the two commercial casinos while another would allow tribes to offer sports betting. There are also calls for online sports betting.
If sports betting is legalized, it would make Maine the second state in New England to do so, after Rhode Island. Eight states in the US already have legal sports betting and another 30 or so states have bills in the works. The focus for the Maine legislative is to cement in place a comprehensive framework for sports betting without rushing into any decisions.
State gains revenue from gambling
While sports betting would be given a warm welcome in the state, it would probably not be a massive driver of revenue. A sponsor of one of the bills, Representative Benjamin Collins, says that while sports betting would generate millions in the state, it would not reach the tens of millions mark. The state government already taxes the profits of the commercial casinos, which generates about $55m (£42m) in annual revenue.
The tribes are not particularly interested in sports betting across the US. There are slim margins and significant costs when setting up and operating a sportsbook.
While sports betting has been illegal in Maine for many years, there was a thriving underground market. In January, a Portland man was accused of operating one of the largest illegal sports betting operations in the state.
They estimate that he took in anywhere from $9m (£6.9m) to $12m (£9.2m) during the two decades or so that he was in business. He was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison after being convicted of filing a false tax return, money laundering, and unlawful gambling.