Maine has just emerged as a late contender for online casino legalization in 2023. LD1777, submitted by House Rep. Laura Supica would create a framework for iGaming along the same lines as the state’s existing online sports betting laws. The move comes as a surprise, as more likely states like New York and Indiana have abandoned their efforts, and most industry analysts seem prepared to call the year a write-off for online gambling expansion.
How likely the bill is to succeed is an open question, as it is brand new, having been referred to the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs on April 25. It will certainly have the support of the state’s tribes, as it offers them exclusivity and favorable terms. Supica, a Democrat representing Bangor, was one of 20 representatives to earn the tribes’ endorsement in the 2022 election.
There are four federally recognized tribes in the state:
Currently, each is allowed to operate a single online sports betting brand. However, that bill only passed last year and no sportsbooks have yet launched. LD1777 proposes a similar system for online casinos.
Each tribe would be eligible to acquire a single license, and contract with a single third-party company to operate internet gaming on the tribe’s behalf. In other words, we would be looking at a market with one skin per operator, like Michigan and Connecticut.
As is now commonplace, the bill makes no mention of online poker but would presumably treat it as implicitly part of casino gaming.
LD1777 Offers a Good Deal for the Tribes
For any form of gambling, exclusivity is always a hot topic among gaming tribes. Maine’s market under LD1777 would most closely resemble Connecticut’s in that way.
In the Nutmeg State, there are only two tribes, with each operating a single sports betting and online casino platform. The difference there is that the state lottery also participates in online sports betting, though not online casino gaming. However, because of the way these verticals support one another, the lottery’s market share of sports betting is very low – about 10%, with the tribes having about 45% apiece – and its operator partner Rush Street Interactive is pulling out of the deal because of that.
Just as importantly, LD1777 proposes just a 10% tax on internet gaming, which would be the lowest out of any US online casino market.
It’s very specific about where that money goes:
- 1% goes to the regulatory operations of the Gambling Control Unit at the Department of Public Safety
- 1% goes to the Gambling Addiction Prevention and Treatment Fund
- 2% goes to the Opioid Use Disorder Prevention and Treatment Fund
- 2% goes to the Emergency Housing Relief Fund
- 4% goes to support the state’s 911 service
One interesting feature of the bill is that it would require operators to share anonymized data with the regulator on request. It doesn’t specific the purpose of this, but that might signal an intent to explore the possibility of using data analysis to allow early intervention with at-risk gamblers, similar to a program New Jersey introduced this year.
Will Four Brands be Enough for Maine?
A four-brand limit is fairly restrictive. However, it’s the same limit that the existing sports betting law will impose on mobile sportsbooks when they launch. In fact, LD1777 defines online sports betting as a type of internet gaming, so it would be the same operators and the same licenses for both verticals.
Four brands would make Maine the market with the fewest options outside of Connecticut’s duopoly and Delaware’s lottery monopoly. However, with a population of just 1.37 million, it might not be able to support more than that anyway. West Virginia, the next larger state with legal online casinos, has 1.78 million people and seems to have hit its practical limit with six brands, despite the legal possibility of up to 15.
With four brands, Maine would have a similar brands-per-capita ratio – roughly one brand per 300,000 residents in both cases.
But that’s assuming the bill passes. It has a long way to go before potentially receiving Gov. Janet Mills’s signature. Even in states that have seen sports betting launch successfully, immediate proposals for online casinos have tended to be received as “too much too quickly.” With mobile betting still pending launch, LD1777 may find itself facing an uphill battle in the face of opposition from more risk-averse legislators.