Maine has yet to legalize sports betting. That said, the state has come about as close as it possibly could to doing so.
In June 2019, both chambers of the Maine Legislature passed a sports betting bill just as the congressional session was ending. However, Gov. Janet Mills opposed the bill. Mills was able to wait until January 2020 and the start of the next legislative session before she vetoed it.
At the time, the Maine Senate had enough votes to override the governor’s veto. But after intense lobbying from Mills and others, the House came a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Thus 2020 ended without sports betting in the Pine Tree State.
Even so, lawmakers introduced new sports betting bills in 2021, and there remains significant support going forward. Maine continues to be a strong candidate to join its neighbor New Hampshire and other states that have legalized sports betting in recent years.
Here’s a look at how the conversation about legalizing sports betting in Maine has gone thus far, as well as some consideration of the prospects for legalization going forward.
Is sports betting legal in Maine?
Not yet, but that’s not for lack of trying on the part of lawmakers.
A US Supreme Court ruling in May 2018 made it legal for states other than Nevada to offer sports betting. While other states rushed to be among the first to legalize sports betting, Maine stayed on the sidelines initially.
However, when a sports betting bill was proposed for the 2019 session, it earned support from both legislative chambers. In fact, the House unanimously approved it, while the Senate voted 19-15 in favor.
As written, the bill allowed up to 11 properties to offer both retail and online sports betting. Licenses would go to one racetrack, two commercial casinos, four OTB parlors and the four Maine tribes. Additionally, any “qualified gaming entity” operating in the US could also apply for a mobile license. In other words, the online sportsbooks based outside of Maine could obtain licenses without having to seek land-based partners in the state.
The bill set the tax on online sports betting revenue at 16%, and 10% on retail sports betting revenue. License fees for retail locations were $2,000, while mobile sports wagering license fees would be $20,000.
Initial projections suggested Maine could realize $1.9 million in revenue from sports betting during the first year. Those projections also estimated revenue could increase to $5.6 million by the fourth year.
However, Mills was unmoved by such projections and, citing concerns with problem gambling, vetoed the bill. Employing a legislative technicality, Mills was able to wait six months until January 2020 to issue her veto.
An override vote then followed in both the House and Senate. Leading up to that vote, Maine’s commercial casinos expended energy lobbying against the sports betting law, which they opposed.
The Senate voted 20-10 in favor, exactly the two-thirds needed for an override. But the House only voted 85-57 to pass the bill. That was 10 votes shy of the two-thirds majority, and the override of the veto failed.
Latest legislative efforts
Sports betting was back on the table in 2021 when state Sen. Louis Luchini introduced LD 1352. The bill closely resembled the one previously passed by legislators and blocked by Mills.
Once again, the legislation would authorize both online and retail sportsbooks in the state. The tax rate of 10% on retail revenue and 16% on online remained the same. The bill again set the licensing fees at $2,000 for retail and $20,000 for mobile.
Other details regarding who would be eligible to apply for sports betting licenses were the same as well, namely casinos, racetracks, OTB parlors and the four Maine tribes. The bill likewise retained the provision allowing qualified mobile operators outside of Maine to apply for licenses without tethering to a physical location in the state.
Other sports betting bills followed, including Rep. Tim Roche‘s LD 1527 that largely followed Luchini’s bill. Meanwhile Sen. Joseph Balducci’s LD 1404 and Sen. Troy Jackson‘s LD 1405 both kept other details but required online sportsbooks to have land-based partners.
At the end of May 2021, only one bill was chosen to move forward – Sen Luchini’s bill – with one significant amendment: legislators asked that tethering be required. This would mean those who want a sports betting license in Maine must be partnered with an existing physical casino in Maine first.
As Mills has also voiced worries about minors in regard to sports betting marketing and access, the bill includes provisions that address her worries.
While these legislative particulars will need to be settled, it does appear as if Maine is again eager to legalize sports betting. The fact that New Hampshire already allows online sports betting from anywhere in the state, meaning Maine residents can simply trek over the state line to place wagers, provides one incentive. Canada’s move toward legalizing sports betting in 2021 provides another.
Will online sports betting come to Maine?
It seems certain that should Maine legalize sports betting, lawmakers will include an online option in order to help bolster the industry. As described above, all of the bills under consideration would make online sports wagering an option for bettors.
The fact that proposed legislation suggests taxing online sports betting at a higher rate than retail shows lawmakers are aware online sports betting can provide significant tax revenue. In states that have legalized both retail and online sports betting, the majority of tax revenue routinely comes from online wagering — as much as 80% in some cases.
Whether Maine’s new sports betting law will allow online sportsbooks to obtain licenses without partnering with land-based properties remains to be seen.
The background of Maine gambling law
As one of the country’s least populated states, Maine does welcome certain forms of gambling, albeit in modest ways.
In 1974, Maine introduced a state lottery. In 1985, Maine joined Vermont and New Hampshire to form the country’s first multi-state lottery compact.
Today Maine is part of the Multi-State Lottery Association that oversees big lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions.
Charitable gaming is legal in Maine as well, with bingo, beano and raffles all permitted. So-called social gambling is allowed as well, such as a home game of poker played for low stakes and with no rake or fee taken.
Betting on horse races has been part of the story in Maine since the first half of the 20th century and remains legal today. However, betting on dog races is illegal.
Maine introduces slots, table games
In 2003, Maine residents voted in favor of a referendum to allow the state’s horse race tracks to add slot machines. Residents of Scarborough voted against doing so, which meant no slots at Scarborough Downs.
Meanwhile, the Bangor Raceway did add slot machines, eventually becoming the Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway. In 2012, table games also gained approval, and a year later the property was renamed again to the Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway.
Penn National Gaming operates the Bangor property, where the casino now features about 800 slots and around a dozen table games. There is one other commercial casino in Maine as well, the Oxford Casino owned by Churchill Downs, which opened in 2012. The Oxford features about 27,000 square feet of gambling space with nearly 1,000 slots and close to 30 table games.
In addition to pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, off-track betting on horse racing is also legal in Maine at both race tracks and at four other OTB parlors. In 2020, the Maine Gambling Control Board additionally legalized mobile wagering on horse races from anywhere in the state.
Aside from betting on horses, legal sports betting has not yet fully come to fruition in Maine. However, in 2017, the state did pass a law explicitly legalizing daily fantasy sports, meaning Maine residents can play on DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo and other DFS sites.
The Gambling Control Unit of the state’s Department of Public Safety regulates fantasy sports in Maine.
Tribal gaming in Maine
There are four federally recognized tribes in Maine:
- Aroostook Band of Micmacs
- Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians of Maine
- The Passamaquoddy
- The Penobscot Nation
The tribes can operate bingo halls with Class II gambling, although none currently do. The Penobscot Nation was the most recent to try, but the tribe had to close its bingo hall on Indian Island due to competition from the Hollywood Casino in nearby Bangor.
Interestingly, when it comes to gambling, the Maine tribes operate not under the federal Indian Gambling Regulatory Act, but according to the state-specific Maine Settlements Act. Thus they face a particular legislative hurdle when it comes to opening full-fledged Las Vegas-style casinos with slots and table games as tribes in other states have done.
The question of whether to expand tribal gambling in the state and allow Class III tribal casinos has come up in the past. But such legislation has never been able to pass, or if it has it has been struck down by veto.
What sports can I bet on in Maine?
There isn’t legal sports betting in Maine, yet. If and when it arrives, expect Maine sportsbooks to offer the usual menu of options for bettors. That would include accepting wagers on all of the most popular sports for betting, including the following:
- Auto racing
- Mixed martial arts
Proposed sports betting legislation in Maine would also specifically allow betting on “electronic sports” or esports. There is no mention, however, to allow bets on non-sporting events such as the Academy Awards and the like.
Betting on pro sports teams in Maine
Maine has some minor league basketball, baseball and hockey teams, but no professional franchises in any of the major sports leagues.
That said, Maine’s location in New England means many Maine residents have a rooting interest in Boston-area teams like the New England Patriots (NFL), the Boston Celtics (NBA), the Boston Red Sox (MLB) and the Boston Bruins (NHL).
Betting on college teams in Maine
Maine does have a few college sports teams, including the Maine Black Bears of Orono, who field NCAA Division I teams in multiple sports.
Proposed sports betting legislation, however, would preclude Maine sportsbooks from accepting bets on contests involving Maine-based colleges or universities.
Horse races are legal to bet on in Maine
Maine has long allowed pari-mutuel wagering on horse races, having first legalized it in 1935. Among the state’s first and most popular racetracks was Scarborough Downs, which opened in 1950 and continued to operate until closing in November 2020.
Off-track betting is legal in Maine as well, with OTB facilities open in multiple locations.
In May 2020, the Maine Gambling Control Board approved online betting on horse races via the Bangor-based Hollywood Races site. Any resident 18 or older can bet on races via a desktop or laptop computer or using a mobile device. For some observers, the move to legalize online horse wagering signaled a positive development for proponents of legal sports betting in Maine.
Maine made greyhound racing illegal in 1993, including betting on interstate simulcasts.
What types of sports bets can I place in Maine?
Once Maine legalizes sports betting, the sportsbooks will no doubt offer the usual variety of popular bets. Here are the top options:
- Moneylines: A classic “straight up” bet on which team or player will win a contest.
- Spreads: A bet on a side that takes into account the point spread. For example, a wager on “New England -3.5” means the Patriots must win by more than 3.5 points for the bet to win.
- Totals: A bet that the total number of points in a contest will be over or under a given line.
- Parlays: A bet that combines multiple bets or “legs” into a single wager, all of which must be correct for the bet to win.
- Round robins: A type of parlay bet in which bettors can win a partial prize even if they don’t get all of the legs correct.
- Teasers: Another parlay bet that allows bettors to change spreads or totals for each of the legs (to “tease” the lines).
- Props: A bet on an outcome unrelated to the contest result, such as on a player to score above a certain number of points; also called a proposition bet.
- Futures: A bet on an outcome that will not be resolved until a future date. For example, a preseason bet on a team to win the Super Bowl.
- Live betting: Also called “in game betting,” this lets you place bets on an outcome of a game already in progress.
What is the minimum age for sports betting in Maine?
Proposed legislation likewise instructs sportsbooks to not accept sports wagers from those under 21 years of age. That is currently also the minimum age to gamble in a casino in Maine.
Who regulates Maine sports betting?
Currently the Gambling Control Unit of the state’s Department of Public Safety regulates fantasy sports in Maine. Proposed sports betting legislation would also put sports betting under the Gambling Control Unit’s purview.