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Our View: Gov. Mills' sports betting veto was the right call - CentralMaine.com

14th January, 09:06

People place bets on sporting events July 14 at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J. Associated Press/Wayne Parry

You can buy a lottery ticket in Maine. You can put down a bet on a horse race. You can push the buttons on a slot machine, fill out a card for high-stakes beano or put money down on where you think a roulette ball will stop rolling.

But, at least so far, you can't legally bet on a football game or a boxing match, even though that kind of gambling was made legal by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018.

A bill that passed both houses of the Legislature last year would have changed that, but it was vetoed last week by Gov. Janet Mills.

The governor made the right call. Maine shouldn't rush to create new gambling opportunities when there are already so many existing options. Legal gambling is here to stay, but we shouldn't expand it without careful consideration. Sports betting, driven by 24/7 promotion in the media coupled with friction-free online interfaces, represents a new kind of gambling that should not be rushed into the marketplace. When the bill comes back to the Legislature, lawmakers should vote to sustain the veto and give the issue the study it deserves.

Less than two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government did not have the authority to limit state regulation of sports betting. Today, 14 states allow gambling on sports, and seven other have passed legislation but have not implemented it yet. A handful of other states, including California, are planning legalization efforts this year.

But, as Mills pointed out in her veto message, the court said states may permit sports betting, but it didn't say they have to.

"Before Maine joins the frenzy of states hungry to attract this market, I believe we need to examine the issue more clearly; better understand the evolving experiences of other states and thoughtfully determine the best approach fro Maine," Mills wrote.

L.D. 553 would license sports books at existing gambling facilities, including Maine's two casinos, its off-track betting parlors and operations run by federally recognized Indian tribes. It would also allow them to open online sports betting platforms. More controversially, it would also license sports gambling businesses that operate in other states to do business here, even if they have no physical presence in Maine.

It is the online and mobile betting opportunities that should give Maine reason to pause. With every bettor carrying a casino in his pocket, the usual constraints on excessive gambling do not exist.

The sports betting industry says that its software is able to identify and divert people who are betting obsessively, but, as Mills points out, the same companies would be running advertising and marketing campaigns on television and social media. The state should have a way to make sure that these enterprises are not using customer data to pressure them to bet beyond their limits.

Some argue that Maine is losing money by not getting on board the sports gambling bandwagon, but it's not clear how much. States that have beaten us to legalization have been disappointed by the actual revenue collected.

Maine has little to lose by taking a deliberate approach, and people who want to gamble have plenty of opportunities to do so. The Legislature should sustain Mills' veto and craft a bill that better protects the public.

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