When governor Janet Mills signed sports betting throughout Maine into law, the moment was met with a ton of excitement. This move not only legalized on-site transactions. It green lit Main online sports betting.
This was never a guarantee. Throughout the negotiating process, Mills and other policymakers were at constant odds with the state's federally recognized tribes. The latter insisted on exclusive control, while Maine was attempting to open up their betting market to retail online sportsbooks that had a bigger reach and more experience in the digital space, and that were willing to pay handsome sums in licensing fees.
The state inevitability relented on their stance and caved to the tribes' preferences. There will be online sports betting in Maine, but the state's three tribes will have exclusive rights over how they are deployed. They can choose to operate their digital space independently or partner up with a bigger online sportsbook.
Making this concession stands to limit the reach of online sports betting revenue in Maine. It puts the state at the behest of the casinos. If they favor a brick-and-mortar model, Maine will still lose revenue to neighboring states and reputable off-shore betting sites such as any of the ones that appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Maine first needs to implement legal sports betting before measuring its impact. And despite becoming the first state to ratify it in 2022, Maine has yet to join the ranks of legal sports betting in the USA. Complicated still, the state has been slow to provide a concrete timeline for their rollout of on-site and online sports betting. That is, until now.
Legal Sports Betting Will Hit Maine in...2024
You read the above header correctly. Sports betting in Maine isn't expected to take effect before 2024, nearly two full years after it was signed into law.
While this is a loose timeline, it was effectively confirmed by incumbent policymakers throughout Maine following the 2022 elections, according to GamblingSites.org. Local officials were attempting to explain the delay, and they were met with a barrage of questions. Though many of the answers given verged on cryptic, the gist of the discussion was pretty revealing: Main has a lot of work to do when it comes to setting up their sports betting infrastructure.
“We’re working on it right now,” Milt Champion of the Gambling Control Unit recently told CBS 13 in Maine. "I’m not here to push it off. I’m going to work due diligently. It’s all by statute. I don't make up the timeframe and all that stuff. All that I think is under Title V, Administrative Procedure Act. So I can't shorten that, right?”
Champion went on to confirm that he doesn't see the first legal sports betting wagers in Maine being placed before 2024. On numerous occasions, he cited the complexity of the state's sports betting setup, suggesting that more than anything was accounting for the delay.
Whether you believe him or think that Maine is effectively prioritizing the rollout of sports betting is a separate matter. But Champion is right about at least one thing: Maine's sports betting setup is truly unique.
What Will Sports Betting in Maine Look Like?
For most states that only legalize certain sports betting, the terms are pretty straightforward. Typically, tribal casinos are allowed to operate retail sportsbooks and, sometimes, their own sports betting apps. Corporate sportsbooks, meanwhile, are prohibited from entering the market entirely.
However, Maine is on course to do things differently.
Under the current sports betting laws, tribal casinos are allowed to open both on-site sportsbooks and offer their own mobile sports betting apps. But their exclusivity to Maine sports betting is limited to online alone. The state is allowing retail sportsbooks to set up brick-and-mortar locations if they are approved for the appropriate licenses.
This model is unique and, therefore, interesting. Depending on its success, it might be one that other holdout states implement down the line as a compromise to Native American tribes concerned about having to compete for online sports betting business with Goliath companies.
Maine Sports Betting Could Have Ulterior Endgame
Granted, many have interpreted this move by Maine as a conduit to expanded relationships with corporate sportsbooks down the line.
Bigger companies like DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, etc. are generally frowned upon for the lack of financial incentive they bring to the local economy. They will pay their taxes and licensing fees, but they seldom funnel that money back into the local economies by creating jobs or other revenue streams. After all, none of these bigger sportsbooks are actually located inside the markets in which they operate. They are sort of these shadow overlords.
But Maine is forcing these corporations to set up a physical presence. This increases the chances they generate additional jobs or wind up contributing money to the economy by relocating employees or through some other means.
As some industry experts have noted on this subject, corporate sportsbooks may just decide to partner up with local tribes rather than thrust themselves into Maine. But that's still a win for both the tribal casinos and state. The casinos will glean extra money from allowing bigger online sportsbooks to operate their mobile app, and Maine will receive additional revenue from the higher tax rates they will assess on bets placed online.
Will this unique yet symbiotic relationship between tribal casinos, corporate mobile betting partners and the state of Maine pay off? It looks like we'll have to wait until 2024—and beyond—to find out.
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