In this Nov. 18, 2019, file photo, patrons visit the sports betting area of Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Credit: Steven Senne | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate overrode Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of a measure to legalize sports betting in the state by one vote in a surprise move on Thursday after betting was allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2018 decision, setting up a key override vote in the House.

The bill, which passed last June, was a compromise that would have allowed betting for people 21 and older, taxing mobile and online betting revenue at 16 percent and taxing Maine-based facilities such as casinos and off-track betting parlors at a lower rate of 10 percent.

Casinos in Bangor and Oxford opposed the final version of the measure after they and off-track parlors argued betting should be tethered to brick-and-mortar facilities. Lawmakers faced heavy lobbying after Mills held onto the bill into this year and vetoed it last month, saying she was “unconvinced at this time” that Mainers wanted to expand gambling.

The Senate voted 20-10 to override the Democratic governor’s veto on Thursday, which was just enough to win the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to enact the bill with 15 Democrats and five Republicans supporting the proposal.

It is expected to face a Tuesday vote in the House of Representatives, where it never got a roll-call vote last year. The override on Thursday marked the first time a Mills veto has been overridden in any chamber since she became governor in early 2019.

Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the bill’s sponsor, noted it’s a “high bar” to override a veto, but maintained that he is open to working with various interests and Mills to make the proposal work. He said he didn’t know if the bill would pass going into the House vote.

“I think a lot of people realize that the illegal market is so huge, and we’ve seen a lot of states quickly come on board to legalize sports betting, that if we don’t do it other states will get our players to go to their state and gamble,” Luchini said.

Votes against the bill have come from lawmakers who favored tethering, opposed gambling expansion or represented areas with casinos. Making a moral argument, Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, said she opposed the bill “to protect the spouses and partners and children” who will be affected by gambling expansion.

The gambling unit of the Maine State Police estimated the state could make up to $6.9 million in annual revenue under the bill, though that is likely low because it assumed a flat tax rate of 10 percent. New Hampshire saw wagering of $15.8 million in less than a month after Gov. Chris Sununu kicked off betting with a ceremonial bet in December, according to the Boston Herald.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...