Maine’s emerging sports betting market may not see bites from big-name companies due to its structure even while the industry shows deep interest in the rollout.
The Legislature passed a bill giving mobile sports betting rights to the Wabanaki tribes in this spring, while reserving the far smaller in-person market for casinos and off-track betting parlors. It could be another two years before the market goes live.
But the multi-faceted members of the industry have already begun talking to at least one tribe about a partnership and are lining up to pay attention to the crucial rulemaking process. That interest does not seem to extend to the biggest names in sports betting so far.
That is in part because of the revenue structure designed to benefit the tribes and Maine’s status as a small state. But it could leave room for smaller companies to get a foothold with plenty of time for things to change as the state hammers out rules and parties negotiated.
Up to 12 entities have reached out to the Maine Gambling Control Unit to introduce themselves and offer information about their services, said Milton Champion, the unit’s executive director.
Those parties include the NFL as a governing body and representatives of Oxford Casino, sports data trackers, payment companies and geolocators. But it does not include DraftKings, which has a monopoly on New Hampshire’s sports betting business, or FanDuel. Those two companies are the nation’s two dominant sports betting outfits.
“There’s clearly some interest,” Champion said. “But let’s face it, Maine isn’t a $6 million state. It’s not going to push out big numbers.”
Champion is in charge of crafting regulations for the four mobile betting licenses for tribes as well as the licenses for on-site betting at the casinos and off-track betting facilities. Those entities cannot influence that process until rules are released and a public comment period begins. At this point, Champion said initial rules should be released in the late fall as his agency looks to hire more staff.
“There’s clearly some interest,” he said. “But let’s face it, Maine isn’t a $6 million state. It’s not going to push out big numbers.”
That may not be just due to the size of the state, said John Pappas, state advocacy director for the gaming policy group iDEA Growth. Maine only allows operators to collect between 30 percent to 40 percent of revenue generated from wagers, an amount unlikely to entice bigger entities. A limited number of licenses here may also be a deterrent, he said.
The sports betting bill was one of the high-profile debates of the season. It was crafted as a compromise bill from Gov. Janet Mills, who has opposed a wider sovereignty push from the Wabanaki tribes and their supporters. While not the bill they preferred, tribal leaders supported the measure because it would provide a pathway to running a gaming operation and the economic opportunities it can provide.
But it angered gaming proponents because it sidelined a prior bill that had passed both chambers the prior year. That one would have automatically given casinos and off-track betting sites mobile betting licenses. The current law only allows people to make in-person bets there.
The full roster of interested parties may not be public for some time. Chief Maggie Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, said about a dozen vendors of various sizes have contacted her about the regulations. But she said they will be signing non-disclosure agreements as they start to have more in-depth discussions.
“We’re just hearing what their pitches are,” she said.