Maine Tribal Online Sports Betting Bill Moves, Casinos Grumble

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Posted on: March 17, 2022, 12:45h. 

Last updated on: March 17, 2022, 12:45h.

Lawmakers in Maine approved a bill Wednesday that would giftwrap a future mobile sports betting market for the state’s four recognized tribes. But a late amendment, which had the blessing of the tribes, would allow the state’s two casinos to offer in-person retail betting at their properties.

Maine sports betting
Gov. Janet Mills, above, hopes mobile sports betting will help improve relations between the State of Maine and the tribes who live there that have been denied gaming rights in the past. (Image: Forbes)

The Judiciary Committee, which is composed of members of the House and Senate, advanced the bill by an 8-6 vote.

Sports betting is just one aspect of the legislation that ultimately seeks to offer the tribes modest sovereignty gains. This includes the removal of certain state sales taxes and state income taxes within their territories. The package was brokered between the tribes and Gov. Janet Mills (D).

During her election campaign, Mills promised to redress some of the imbalances between tribal sovereign rights in Maine and those enjoyed by tribes in other states.

But last year she vetoed a bill that would have given tribes the same rights as most Native American groups, including the right to offer gaming on their lands. She called the legislation “flawed.”

Raw Deal

Native American tribes got a raw deal in Maine. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act, 1988 (IGRA), tribes are generally permitted to offer class II gaming, defined as bingo and non-banked card games like poker, without state approval. That’s provided those games are legal elsewhere in the state, which is the case in Maine.

But three of the four tribes – the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, and the Maliseet – were recognized by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act in 1980. This stipulated that federal Indian law would not apply to these tribes after 1980 unless the law mentioned Maine specifically, which IGRA didn’t.

The fourth, the Aroostook, gained its status in 1991, three years too late for IGRA, which generally only applies to tribes that were already recognized at the time of its enactment.

The Mills administration hopes that handing the tribes control of the lucrative mobile betting market will go some way towards redressing this inequality. The Maine Gambling Control Unit estimates 85 percent of all sports bets will be made via mobile once the market launches, eclipsing the retail segment.

Fighting Over Crumbs

The state’s two casinos, the Oxford Casino and the Hollywood Casino and Raceway in Bangor, have opposed the bill. And at least one still opposes it, despite the retail betting concession attached yesterday.

As reported by The Bangor Daily News, Chris Jackson, a lobbyist for Penn National, which owns the Hollywood Casino, complained that the amendment would restrict sports betting to its nearby harness track, which is seasonal. Meanwhile, the Oxford Casino, which has no racetrack, could offer betting at the casino itself, he noted.

Penobscot Nation lawyer Alison Binney shot back that commercial casino interests had always been favored over the interests of tribes in the state, and the tribes themselves had offered the concession to help commercial tracks.

One lawmaker questioned why the casinos were part of a conversation about tribal gaming rights at all.

“The point of this was to give the tribes access to mobile betting. That’s my only interest in this bill,” said Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt (D-South Portland), as reported by The Portland Press Herald.

“I have zero sympathy to Hollywood casino,” he addded.

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