Exclusive rights for tribes

Maine House passes tribes-backed sports betting bill while casino interests bring competing effort

Maine House of Representatives.
Reading time 2:23 min

The Maine House has greenlighted a bill giving tribes in the state exclusive rights to online sports betting, passing the proposal 81-53 last Friday. The Senate could vote on the legislation —which would permit the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes to launch operations in this booming market— this week.

While Maine’s tribal nations stated the sports wagering proposal is no substitute for a long-sought separate sovereignty bill, they welcomed the House passage, as the gaming expansion would allow them more options for economic self-determination. It was also celebrated by House Democratic leader Michelle Dunphy, of Old Town.

Dunphy said the sports legislation could improve the prosperity of the Penobscot tribe in her district, as well as help the state correct wrongs against the tribes. Maine’s Wabanaki tribes have long argued a 1980 settlement has left them out of changes in federal law, including the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which created the regulatory framework for tribal gaming - but not in Maine.

"It will also, however, be another important step in a long journey over 500 years in the making," Dunphy said about the bill, according to Maine Public Radio. "The journey of our communities transforming themselves from conquerors and occupiers among a proud people to becoming neighbors."

The bill has been described as a compromise between Gov. Janet Mills and the tribes after negotiations between both parties stalled over a more sweeping effort to overhaul the 1980 settlement act, which made the pursuit of gaming enterprises contemplated under IGRA contingent on voter or legislative approval.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills

The sports betting proposal would grant tribes exclusive rights to operate mobile sports betting while also authorizing harness racing tracks, off-track betting facilities and the Oxford Casino to conduct retail operations. Hollywood Casino Bangor would also be able to conduct retail sports wagering at Bangor Raceway, which it operates as a condition for its casino.

However, the sports betting bill has now been met with rejection from some casino interests and a group of Maine lawmakers who are seeking to advance a rival version that would cut casinos in on the nascent mobile betting market. The House-approved version is now set to face competition from this new Senate plan.

The competing effort was unveiled on Friday and includes Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, who Bangor Daily News describes as an ally of the Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway in his home city. The alternate proposal would grant mobile betting licenses two the state’s two casinos, as well as the tribes.

It has been met with rejection from the tribes, which argue casinos would dominate the market and sharply cut in on revenue that is set to benefit their communities. But Baldacci and two gaming committee lawmakers are keen on pushing the new bill, which would also reserve 6% of all gross mobile revenue for the tribes.

The senator said he backs tribal sovereignty efforts except for gaming endeavors because of Bangor’s financial ties to the casino. “I think we could have reached a better result … if we had been included, but I just honestly think that this would be a better deal in the long run,” he said, according to the cited source.

Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation was among parties speaking in opposition to the new proposal, which he describes as an attempt to change the bill in a way that would enable Hollywood’s parent to dominate the state mobile market. He also noted the deal with Gov. Mills was the result of hard-fought negotiations over sovereignty.