The sports betting market in New England is about to get more crowded. The Maine Legislature this week passed a bill to legalize wagering on athletic contests, just days after neighboring New Hampshire’s lawmakers approved a similar measure.
The bills are awaiting final action by the states’ respective governors. But if they become law, both states could have programs operating next year. Rhode Island last year became the first New England state to accept sports wagers.
Sports betting remains illegal in Massachusetts. Republican Governor Charlie Baker has proposed a measure that would allow wagering on professional games online or at the state’s casinos, but legislators are not expected to decide on the issue before the fall.
“We’re always monitoring what states around us are doing, realizing that we do have a gaming industry in Massachusetts, and we want it to remain competitive,” said State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the legislative committee considering sports betting. “However, the top priority for the committee is to make sure that the bill is the best it can be for the people of Massachusetts.”
The legalization of sports betting appears all but certain in New Hampshire, where Republican Governor Christopher T. Sununu is a supporter of the measure that lawmakers approved. Maine’s Democratic governor, Janet T. Mills, has not taken a position on the bill that passed in her state.
About a dozen other states have rolled out sports betting in the year since the US Supreme Court invalidated a law that confined the practice to Nevada.
Both the New Hampshire and Maine bills would allow gamblers to place bets online and at in-person gambling sites.
New Hampshire would allow 10 brick-and-mortar sports book sites around the state, which could be restaurants or other types of entertainment facilities.
The New Hampshire legislation also authorizes the state’s lottery to select up to five online-only operators, which could potentially be legacy gambling companies, digital operators such as DraftKings, or commercial sports books with roots overseas. Those games would be available only to users within state borders.
New Hampshire state Representative Timothy Lang, a Sanbornton Republican and a sponsor of the bill, said he believes there could be some cross-border players from Massachusetts. But he said interstate competition for gamblers was not a major concern.
“That wasn’t my input for doing it. I wasn’t trying to steal market from anyone else,” Lang said. “It just made good business sense.”
Before the bill passed, New Hampshire had long debated — but never authorized — an expansion into casino gambling. Lang said sports betting could be a good way to bring in some revenue in an industry that has largely been confined to the black market. The state expects it to bring in as much as $10 million next year, and more in future years. Betting could start sometime in 2020.
The Maine bill would also allow mobile wagers, along with betting at the state’s two casinos, in Bangor and Oxford, and its horse tracks, off-track betting sites, and Native American tribal facilities. If it becomes law, the program could start by late 2019 or early next year. It could bring in $2.6 million next year, according to state documents.
Both programs are more expansive than the sports betting scheme in Rhode Island, which in 2018 began accepting bets at sports books operated by the state’s two casinos. The state is in the process of setting up a mobile wagering program amid disappointing revenues.