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Hold on to your sports bets for now, Mainers

The state's Gambling Control Unit will soon begin a long rulemaking process before the first legal sports bet can be placed in Maine, possibly in early 2024.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite Gov. Janet Mills signing Maine's sports betting bill into law on May 2, it will take some time before people can place a wager at an in-person location or through a mobile sports book.

“Maine is not Las Vegas; Maine is not Atlantic City. But that doesn’t make it lesser of a regulatory responsibility on my part, and so I’m going to make sure we get things done correctly," Milton Champion, executive director of the Maine Gambling Control Unit, said Friday.

Champion is the person tasked to draft up those proposed rules and regulations before any sports book goes online in the state. He said he would be adding two new positions in the department: a deputy director and an inspector in charge of overseeing in-person sports books or lounges.

The sports betting bill takes effect on July 31, and that's when Champion can begin the application process for those two new positions. It also marks the beginning of when he can begin drafting rules for the market.

During a zoom interview on Friday, Champion said he understands there is a lot of excitement around sports betting in Maine, but he also said he will not rush the process just because people want to place bets.

RELATED: Gov. Mills signs bill giving tribes control of mobile sports betting in Maine

While he waits for the law to take effect, Champion said he would look at how other states went through the regulation process to put Maine in a good position.

“If [another state's] law is particularly close to ours, I may venture in and take a look at their rules and see what they’ve done," he added. “Obviously, we’re a little late in the game here in Maine, so I’m hoping to have lesser hiccups than other states have had.”

The timeline for when mobile and in-person betting comes online is fluid and depends on the response from the industry, Champion said. Once his proposed rules are drafted, there will be hearings involving the public and people in the industry.

"Depending on that response and the pushback and how detailed that is, I may have to go back to the drawing board, republish new rules, have another hearing, or at least a 30-day time frame for written comment," Champion said.

One example he gave of a potential holdup is the price of background investigations for applicants applying for gaming licenses. Champion said if he sets that price at $100,000, there will be a lot of pushback and all parties involved will need to work together to come to a decision.

“When I do rulemaking, I like to throw everything I can up against the wall, and then we work it out and see what sticks," he said.

Because Champion needs to wait a few months for this process to begin, along with the expected delays in the rulemaking process, the first legal sports bets may not be placed in Maine until this time next year or early 2024.

"This is very specific, and the Legislature has directed me to do this. So, I’m going to take whatever time is necessary, and I’ll do it as quickly as I can, but I’m not going to do it because everybody wants it tomorrow," he said.

Maine law now grants Maine's indigenous tribes exclusive rights to mobile betting. The state's two casinos and off-track-betting facilities can apply for in-person gaming licenses.

Despite the success of sports betting in other states, Champion does not expect Maine to rake in as much profit. He said the casinos generated roughly $60 million for the state last year, and he doesn't expect the betting market to produce anything close to that figure.

The time between the law taking effect and the first legal wager cast in Maine will be longer than most states that have legalized sports betting. New Hampshire, for example, launched its sports betting market on December 30, 2019, after the bill was signed into law that July.

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