Could Maine’s Path To Online Casinos Be A Blueprint For California?

Written By Cheryl Coward on March 8, 2024 - Last Updated on March 11, 2024
A picture of a mirror with Maine and California for a story about California mimicking Maine's online casino plan.

Given the nature of failed efforts in the past several years to legalize sports betting in California, any type of new gambling initiative in the state will not be successful without the blessing of Native American-owned casinos.

Both tribal leaders and online sportsbooks agree that, at some point, sports wagering will be legal in the Golden State. Once that happens, a path to ratify online casinos could follow.

Seven states that allow sports betting have expanded their markets to include iGaming. Rhode Island is the latest, with a law that will go into effect in April. In addition, a few other states are exploring online casino options as a follow-up to sports betting legalization. One of those states is Maine.

Could the northeasternmost US state provide a blueprint for California?

Maine took almost two years to create a sports betting system

While California online casinos remain illegal, players can participate in sweepstakes and social online casinos. The sites use virtual currencies that can be redeemed for real dollars. Sports betting will probably be legalized in the state before online casinos, but California should have no problem finding a framework working in another state when and if it eventually legalizes iGaming.

The road to a sports betting launch in Maine was long and arduous. The state took much longer than most others to go live after the governor approved legislation. Gov. Janet Mills signed a sports wagering law in May 2022. It took more than a year and a half before citizens in the state could place bets.

Contrast that to other states such as Massachusetts, which got online sports betting off the ground in six months, even with an intense regulatory review by the state’s gaming commission and a rigorous licensing process.

However, Massachusetts has no tribal-owned casinos, while Maine has two. California, the nation’s most populous state, has 66 active tribal casinos. By extrapolation, this could mean that it would probably take California a much longer time than other states to launch sports wagering and online casinos if they became legal.

Introducing the idea of online casinos in Maine

During the period after Maine’s sports betting legislation passed, legislators introduced a bill to extend gaming to include online casinos. The structure of the sports betting law provided a framework for the iGaming bill.

Maine’s sports betting law “incentivizes investment in tribal communities, and it formalizes a collaboration process on policy that sets the foundation for a stronger relationship in the future,” said Mills upon signing the legislation.

Tribes flexed their muscles and the law contained wide-ranging measures that solidified their sovereignty, including providing tax relief and creating a “process to review all legislation for potential impacts on historically disadvantaged populations.”

California tribes are also powerful enough to shape and control the development of future gambling legislation in the state. They have been successful in bulldozing any ballot efforts initiated by out-of-state operators and non-tribal groups. So, if and when online casino legislation makes its way to consideration in the state, it would probably mirror in many ways the current iGaming bill, LD 1777, currently in the Maine Legislature.

Introduced last April, the bill would give tribes exclusivity in obtaining a license for online casinos. Revenue would be taxed at just 10%, and licenses would be good for four years before renewal.

What’s next in California

With the massive fiasco of last year’s dueling sports betting propositions and a failure to get enough signatures for a recent sports wagering ballot initiative, it is unlikely that iGaming will arrive in California before 2026.

However, that doesn’t mean that tribes and sportsbooks have given up on expanding legal gaming options for bettors, especially given the sheer amount of money that would be generated.

The projected $3 billion revenue from sports betting alone would make California the nation’s most lucrative market for that industry. Add online casinos to the mix and the overall revenue figures would be eye-popping.

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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayCA with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California, including coverage of the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 election battle.

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