AUGUSTA — Sports fans who were hoping to legally bet on the outcome of the World Series this fall or the Super Bowl next winter won’t be able to do that, at least not in Maine.

A bill to legalize sports betting and divide the profits among the state’s casinos, online gambling operators and others was held by Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday as she wrapped up her work on more than 700 bills that reached her desk in 2019.

The sports betting bill was among 39 that Mills held, which means the measures land in a legislative purgatory and will be resurrected once the Legislature returns for at least three consecutive days. That won’t likely be until January.

The sports betting bill, which would give just about every entity with an interest in gambling a slice of the revenue, faced no formal opposition in the Legislature, beyond some lawmakers voicing concern over problem gamblers. The bill would have allowed casino operators, off-track betting parlors, harness racing tracks and Native American tribes in Maine to host sports betting operations.

The measure also would legalize online sports betting. Estimates on how much sports betting would be worth in Maine varied widely, but a fiscal note attached to the bill suggests that once it is fully implemented, originally scheduled to occur in 2023, the state would stand to collect as much as $5 million a year in fees and taxes.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, was not surprised the measure was held and said he intended to continue to work on it in 2020.

Mills also held a bill that would have provided about $1 million for nursing homes to help them pay higher wages and retain employees. Republicans in the Senate lamented the governor’s failure to sign the measure.

“While the Legislature was pushing to fund this bill in the last few days of the session, a priority of the Republican caucus, I struggled to place my own mother in a senior living facility,” said Sen. Robert Foley of Wells. “After calling facilities as far as two hours away and finding no beds available, I was forced to take her out of state.”

Foley said the governor’s decision to hold the bill means other Mainers may face similar situations.

Also left waiting for additional work or deeper negotiations are bills that would set a licensing fee for opioid manufacturers; expand the prohibitions on donations from lobbyists to lawmakers; and broaden eligibility for dental care for thousands of Medicaid patients in the state’s MaineCare program. Mills said she held the bills because of technical problems, conflicts with other existing laws or because she was concerned over the costs of the measure to state government.

“I was vetting them for a number of reasons,” Mills said. “I’m happy to work with the sponsors and supporters of those bills between now and January to fix what can be fixed.”

Mills also said she was still planning on calling lawmakers back to work later this year, likely before the end of September, to try to reach an agreement on a package of bonds for the November ballot. The Legislature was unable to strike a deal on bonding bills during the session.

The bills would ask voters to approve state borrowing for highway work in 2020 and other infrastructure improvements around the state that include expanding broadband access and fixing aging wastewater treatment facilities.

Republicans balked at the overall amount of borrowing and pressed for the four bonding bills proposed by Mills to receive individual votes in the Legislature and not be voted on in a single package.

Mills did sign into law more than 600 bills this year, including one in the last batch announced Wednesday that extends the state tax on tobacco products to vaping devices, including e-cigarettes.

Critics of the move, including Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said Mills would be breaking her promise to not raise taxes in her first two-year budget if she signed it into law.

But Mills responded Wednesday, saying that extending the state’s tobacco tax to vaping products only made sense because both products are used to deliver nicotine to a person.

“We tax cigarettes with nicotine, we will now tax other products that have nicotine,” Mills said. “It’s like why would you tax gin and not vodka, you know, whiskey and not rum? They both are harmful – several thousand people, around 2,500 people a year, die from nicotine and nicotine products.”

Mills said she believed the new tax on vaping was an important regulation on the industry that sells nicotine.

“Particularly when they sell it and market it to young people who are vaping at an enormous rate in the state of Maine, getting addicted to the same products that cause death from tobacco,” she said.

The new law also increases the tax on noncigarette tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, from 20 percent of the wholesale cost of the product to 43 percent of the wholesale cost.

Once fully implemented, the expanded tax is projected to raise an additional $4.7 million a year for the state. That money already has been earmarked to increase state Medicaid reimbursement rates for ambulance services, while other revenue from the new tax is directed toward helping small hospitals in rural parts of the state.

 


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