The Maine Gambling Control Unit has proposed the strictest limits on sports-betting advertising and promotions in the U.S., limiting television advertising to only during live sporting events, along with banning all television advertising of promotions and bonuses.
“Advertising has been a huge recent dark cloud over the industry lately and many states are looking into that area as well,” Milton Champion, executive director of the state’s Gambling Control Unit, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance via email.
During a news conference on Wednesday (January 11) to release the 56 pages of proposed regulations, Champion admitted that operators would find surprises within the draft rules.
“The surprises I was referring to were more in line with being specific to a requirement and not generic as in other states’ rules,” Champion told VIXIO. “I do expect some changes after hearing from the industry.”
According to the proposed regulations, “television advertising may only take place during an event and only on the channel that the event is being telecast when wagers on that event are offered by a licensed operator in Maine.”
All television advertising could also not include any mention of promotions or bonuses.
Instead, Champion and his staff propose to limit all promotional or bonus wagering offers to websites and sports-betting apps, with a record of those offers made readily available to state gaming regulators.
Offer terms would need to include the date and time presented; the date and time the offer is active and expires; customer eligibility, including any limitations on patron participation; any restriction on withdrawal of funds; the ability to unsubscribe from direct marketing; and rules regarding cancellation.
Champion’s agency is also proposing that all sportsbook operators provide regulators with electronic copies of all advertising, marketing and promotional materials ten days prior to publication. Maine further proposes to deny operators the ability to deduct free play or bonus credit from their taxable revenue.
Maine’s proposed rules regarding bonuses within advertising bear some resemblance to those of Ontario, but the restrictions on televised ads appear to have no prior precedent in North America even though various European countries have addressed the issue in recent years.
“The [American Gaming Association] has consistently pointed out the importance of sports-betting advertising to inform the public about which sportsbooks are legal and regulated, and to ensure customers receive responsible gaming messages,” said Chris Cylke, AGA's senior vice president of government relations.
“Restrictions on advertising will only hamper efforts to migrate consumers to legal channels and continue to provide illegal sportsbooks an unnecessary competitive advantage,” Cylke said.
Maine gaming regulators will host a public hearing on the proposed rules on January 31. There is also a March 3 deadline for written comments to be submitted to the Gambling Control Unit.
Once the rules are finalized, they will be sent to the state attorney general, who will have 120 days to sign off on the regulations before they are forwarded to the secretary of state for final approval.
“We are going to turn this around as quickly as possible,” Champion said.
Efforts to legalize sports betting in Maine began in 2019 when lawmakers passed a bill only to have Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, veto the measure in January 2020. The legislature subsequently failed to override the governor’s veto.
In her 2020 veto message, Mills cited her concerns about the sports-betting industry’s aggressive advertising practices.
“It is difficult to envision a system which does this and at the same time would employ broad based marketing and aggressive advertising in social media and on television, including ads during the very games on which live bets are being placed,” Mills said at the time.
“These ads would unduly draw in people who should not be risking money impetuously because of youth or financial or family circumstance.”
Messages left with the governor’s office Wednesday seeking comment on the proposed advertising restrictions were not returned.
The law Mills eventually signed last year went into effect on August 22, 2022, but Champion said it was important to move slowly to get the regulations right. A timeline laid out by Champion on Wednesday suggested both retail and mobile sports betting could go live between April this year and January 2024.
“I know this is a hot topic,” Champion said. “I know everybody wants it out either during the Super Bowl or March Madness, but let’s face it, it’s just not going to happen.”
He admitted that he could not be more specific about a launch date because the public has not commented on the proposed regulations but believed “licenses could be issued when the rules go live.”
Champion said he has seen other states adopt regulations within 80 days, but those regulatory agencies have had more resources than Maine’s Gambling Control Unit.
“Give me 80 employees and I can do that,” he said.
Each of the state’s four Indian tribes — the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation — are eligible under state law to apply for a license to conduct online sports betting and can select their own skin or management services partner, with the tribe retaining a majority of the revenue.
Maine’s existing casinos in Bangor and Oxford also can request retail sports wagering licenses along with off-track betting parlors.
“Maine is not a big gambling state,” Champion said. “We should now have the same [sports-betting] regulations as a larger gambling state.”
Estimates on how much tax revenue sports betting would generate for state coffers has varied from $3.8m to $6.9m. Champion said looking at how well sports betting has done in New Hampshire, Maine should be close to $5m annually.