One of the most interesting things to happen in the post PASPA world is the quick acceptance of sports betting–at least conceptually–even in jurisdictions not known for their progressive attitudes toward gaming. Tentative steps toward sports betting have even been seen in Hawaii, South Carolina and Alabama–three of the states most opposed to gaming freedom. You can add another name to that list–Maine now has several competing sports betting bills under consideration in the current legislative session.
The ‘Pine Tree State’ might not rank among the most anti-gaming states in the country but it’s not particularly great either. Until the late 20th Century, the only form of gambling offered in Maine was parimutuel betting at two harness racing facilities and several off track simulcasting locations in the state. Neither harness facility has fared particularly well though both continue to offer live racing dates. The race track in Bangor soldiers on more as an adjunct to the Hollywood Casino Hotel property. Initially, only slots were permitted at racetracks but the law was changed in 2010 to allow for table games. The harness track at Scarborough Downs wanted to follow suit but their request for expanding gaming was voted down in a local referendum. There’s also the Oxford Casino which is the one ‘land based’ facility authorized under state law. Factor in the Maine Lottery which began in 1974 and that’s about it for betting in the state.
Maine doesn’t get much revenue from their current gaming offerings–all told, casino gaming and the lottery bring in just over $100 million a year–and to their credit they’re at least realistic about the financial upside of sports betting. The substantive components of the bills run the gamut from the usual incumbent protectionism to a few elements that are actually decent and in the best interest of the player. One proposal wants to give a monopoly on sports betting to the two land based casinos in the state. Another, seeks to give the sports betting business to the state’s Native American tribes. Maine has gone out of their way to screw the tribal interests out of any revenue from gaming and it seems typically cynical to offer them one of the lowest margin and most difficult to manage of any type of gambling.
Those are the bad ideas but there’s at least a few components of the competing sports betting legislation that could be beneficial to Maine gamblers. One would allow for online and mobile betting within the state–something that sounds obvious in the 21st Century but hasn’t been embraced by politicians in most states due to their financial fealty to status quo gaming interests. There’s a downside in the legislation that would mandate online betting–it includes the boneheaded business about prohibiting bets on Maine college teams. From a practical standpoint, this is of little relevance. From a symbolic standpoint, it implies that the entire enterprise is crooked which is far from the case. That’s why Nevada did away with their prohibition on betting games involving UNLV and Nevada-Reno over a decade ago.
Another proposal would allow the licensing of ‘specific gaming establishments’ just for sports betting. This sounds like a very good idea though the devil would be in the details regarding the licensing of what the legislation is calling ‘wagering lounges’. Unfortunately, what will likely happen is the scenario envisioned by Representative Benjamin Collins of Portland–a ‘compromise measure’ will be cobbled together to juice in all of the status quo gaming interests with little regard for what is best for Maine sports bettors.
A commonality among every state that has legalized or seeks to legalize sports betting–they all fail to realize that they are not the ‘only game in town’ and that they are entering an extremely competitive business. None of them appear to realize this and the stupidity of having interests that don’t understand an industry attempt to create regulation for it should be self evident. With very few exceptions–and even in states that have set up some type of land based sports betting–American sports bettors still have many preferable wagering options.