Politics & Other Mistakes: Bad bet

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So far, Maine hasn’t required consenting adults to obtain a license to have sex. But it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising state bureaucrat proposes the idea of gettin’ some cash out of people who are gettin’ it on.

When that happens, you can be sure the rules and regulations required to receive that permit will be extensive (in the laundry room? Only on Mondays and Thursdays, unless you pay for the extended season permit), complicated (if it’s one of those weird positions in the Kama Sutra, it requires a special tag that’s only available through an annual lottery) and expensive (the more your hormones rage, the more you pay).

Al DiamonFortunately, government workers in charge of making sure nobody has any fun are currently too busy to turn their attention to those intent on makin’ whoopie. That’s because they’re already overwhelmed keeping the price of liquor too high and the selection too feeble. They’re burdened with concocting a constantly evolving litany of petty legalities governing recreational and medical marijuana. And now they bear the heavy responsibility of making it as difficult as possible for anyone wishing to place an online bet on a sporting event to do so.

Maine’s snappily named Gambling Control Unit has proposed a set of rules that could allow legal wagering to begin as early as this coming summer (even though you can bet illegally right now), assuming lots of other bureaucratic crap falls into place. But the terms of the deal are far less lucrative for operators than in most of the other three dozen states that allow sports wagering, calling into question whether major firms such as DraftKings, Fan Duel or BetMGM will find Maine worth the bother.

Online sports betting in this state will be run by the four Native American tribes in Maine, the Penobscots, Passamaquoddys, Maliseets and Micmacs, but they’ll likely hire an experienced outfit like the aforementioned operators to set up their web presence, process the bets and pay the winners. They’ll be hampered by the lower percentage of the take that those companies will earn, which makes it likely the tribes will be forced to make do with some lesser-known entity, such as Honest Herbie’s Bookie and Barber Shop.

You’ll also be able to place bets at the state’s two casinos and at off-track betting parlors, but if national trends apply, the online operations are where the money is and will probably account for more than 85 percent of the action.

Although that action will be of the sludgy sort. Because Maine is late to legalize sports betting, because it’s a relatively small market, and because the regulatory oversight doesn’t make anything easy, the amount of tax money the state is expecting is less than $7 million per year.

(It occurs to me that all this is kind of boring, and I probably should have stuck with the sex thing rather than wandering off into the regulatory weeds, where I’m less likely to trip over amorous couples. But the editor wants public policy, so your prurient interest is going to have to be put on hold.)

There’s lots more to Maine’s proposed sports gambling rules than just who gets what cut of the cash. The state also wants to require operators to carry big insurance policies, not only to make sure winners get paid, but also to protect against cyber breaches, mistakes, lawsuits and employees damaging computers while having sex on their desks.

Maine’s moral overlords are also setting all kinds of strict limits on advertising, some of which may be unconstitutional and others just ridiculous. No sports stars or celebrities can shill for the games on TV, radio, print or online. All advertising material must be submitted to the state for approval at least 10 days in advance. TV ads can only show up on the channel that’s airing the event being bet on. No ads can feature explicit sex, unless it’s sex that’s been licensed by the Maine Sexual Control Unit.

I may have made that last one up. But it probably gave somebody in Augusta an idea.

There’s certainly a simpler way to handle online sports betting. But that simpler way wouldn’t be the Maine way.

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