Maine is ready to pass a sports wagering bill that is inclusive of the tribes, helps to eliminate the illegal offshore market and generates revenue for the state. That bill is L.D. 1352.

Three years ago, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee passed a sports wagering bill that would have allowed the tribes, casinos, tracks, off-track betting facilities and experienced mobile sports betting operators to offer sports wagering in Maine. The bill was supported by nearly every stakeholder – including the tribes – but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mills. The governor raised concerns about Maine not being ready for the novel industry as well as the absence of advertising restrictions and strong penalties for illegal activities in the bill. The Legislature failed to override the veto because many lawmakers also felt that the bill did not go far enough to prioritize our in-state gaming stakeholders, including the tribes.

Last year, members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee worked through numerous work sessions and put together a framework that addresses the governor’s important public policy concerns, and presented the tribes and local gaming interests with greater economic opportunity in the emerging industry than the bill that was passed the previous year. This was a tremendous win for Maine because it included the tribes, who have historically been shut out of the gaming industry. It also meant that consumers would have more legal and regulated sports wagering options to choose from in competition with the thriving illicit offshore market.

This year, the governor has put forward a tribal-state collaboration proposal – L.D. 585 – that includes sports wagering. We commend the governor for her backing of legalizing sports wagering in Maine. As drafted, however, the bill would create a limited number of safe and regulated sports wagering choices for Mainers; only the tribes would be able to offer mobile sports wagering, while casinos and off-track-betting operators would be able to accept sports wagers only at their facilities. The proposal is also expected to generate less revenue for the state than L.D. 1352. Finally, unlike L.D. 1352, the governor’s proposal also eliminates the opportunity for the tribes to offer retail sports wagering, a business prospect that will create jobs for the tribes and Maine.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the governor’s proposal is not the underlying framework but the process itself. Although the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is responsible for reviewing gaming bills, this proposal was sent to the Judiciary Committee because of the laudable non-gaming aspects of the legislation. Normally, our legislative process requires that a bill with multiple subject matters be sent to all of the appropriate committees. However, that is not the case here. And all lawmakers, including our counterparts on the Judiciary Committee, should be concerned about that. This will set a precedent that allows lawmakers to “venue shop” and send legislation where it will go unchallenged and receive what is believed to be a more receptive audience. That is not how our government works.

Maine has a chance to correct history for our tribes and simultaneously get sports wagering right this year. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has put forth a comprehensive framework with bipartisan support that will provide the tribes with greater economic opportunity, generate more revenue for the state and offer Mainers a more competitive regulated sports wagering industry that presents a viable alternative to the illegal market. For these reasons, we will be asking our colleagues to support L.D. 1352, and we hope that you will do the same.

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