New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu shows his receipt after placing the first legal sports wagering bet on his mobile phone for the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl at a sports bar in Manchester, New Hampshire, in this Dec. 30, 2019, file photo. New Hampshire, which partnered with DraftKings, is the second New England state to approve sports wagering. Credit: Charles Krupa | AP

As the Legislature prepares to return to Augusta this week, important legislation is currently sitting on Gov. Janet Mills’ desk: LD 553, a bill that will legalize and regulate sports wagering in Maine. It is my hope that Mills allows this bipartisan legislation that was carefully constructed with input from the administration through its Gambling Control Unit to become law and seize an opportunity to protect Mainers and deliver a huge blow to a pervasive illegal market.

LD 553 was approved by the Legislature on June 19, positioning Maine to join the 20 other U.S. jurisdictions — including neighboring New Hampshire, which launched sports wagering on Dec. 30 — that have chosen to legalize and regulate sports wagering or are moving to do so. The Legislature overwhelmingly recognized the importance of providing much-needed consumer protections to Mainers in an industry that is currently dominated by unsafe illegal sportsbooks, including right here at home, as we were recently reminded when nearly $20 million in assets were seized from an illegal sports betting ring.

Nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law prohibiting sports wagering, Mainers are still left with only one option: the illegal market. Today, the illegal offshore sports wagering industry preys upon Mainers through deceptive advertising, confusing many into thinking they are wagering with a legal, regulated sportsbook. In reality, these sites take money from Mainers while providing no safeguards. Their money is constantly at risk and the illegal sportsbook operators do nothing in the way of identifying problem gambling and ensuring customers have access to valuable responsible gaming tools.

The bill sitting on the governor’s desk creates a framework that ensures all regulated sportsbook operators conducting business in Maine will do so in a responsible manner that protects Mainers while delivering an enjoyable, first-class experience that incentivizes individuals to leave the illegal market. Only the most qualified sportsbook operators will be able to enter the regulated Maine market, and they will be held to the highest advertising and responsible gaming standards.

By looking to other states that have gone live with regulated sports wagering, one theme is clear: If we are serious about putting an end to the illegal market, then mobile sports wagering is critical. Nearly 85 percent of sports wagering activity in New Jersey and Pennsylvania takes place online, and this trend is consistent among other states that have recently begun regulating sports wagering.

LD 553 recognizes the importance of mobile sports wagering and adopts a framework that will give Mainers options and best position sportsbook operators to put the most significant dent in the illegal market. The framework provides a safe, legal sports wagering option in Maine and creates a new source of tax revenue, ensuring that sports wagering dollars do not stay underground or disappear across the border into New Hampshire.

I proudly stand behind LD 553 and the work my colleagues and I did to provide the best path forward for Maine. I believe this bipartisan bill will establish a framework for regulated sports wagering that is viewed as the best in the United States. We have an opportunity to be a leader in the fight against a pervasive illegal industry that takes advantage of Mainers, and we can’t allow it to slip away.

I look forward to the day when Mainers can wager on their favorite players and teams in a safe, legal way, right here in Maine. I urge Mills to allow this legislation to become law and begin eradicating the illegal operators’ stronghold on our consumers. Not allowing LD 553 to become law will only serve to benefit select special interest groups and, most of all, illegal bookmakers.

Let’s give consumers a legal alternative, let’s give them safety, let’s give them what the Legislature passed in June.

Scott Strom of Pittsfield represents District 106 in the Maine House of Representatives. He serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which oversees gambling. He was the co-sponsor of LD 553.