Maine Governor Janet Mills Vetoes Tribes Sovereign Gaming Rights Bill


Maine Governor Janet Mills on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed the state’s four federally recognized tribes to offer gaming on their sovereign reservations.

Janet Mills
Janet Mills
Janet Mills, pictured, said in a long letter to the legislature that she could not approve the bill in its current form, despite its approval by lawmakers two weeks ago. (Image: Robert Bukaty/AP)

The bill, passed by lawmakers in Augusta last month, would have given the tribes the same rights as most tribes in other states.

Democrat Mills said she vetoed the bill because it was “flawed.” In a letter to the legislature explaining the decision, she said she had made improving tribal-state relations a priority, but she could not approve the language of the bill as it stood.

“This bill provides no predictability or meaningful limitations on where tribal gaming may occur, or on the size of each facility,” she wrote.

“The tribal gaming facilities that the legislation would authorize could be large or small, anything from a grand casino to a few slot machines in a convenience store, and the State and adjacent non-tribal communities would have little or no influence over their placement.”

Raw Deal

Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act, 1988 (IGRA), tribes are generally allowed to offer Class II gaming — defined as bingo and non-banked card games like poker — without state approval, provided these games are legal elsewhere in the state.

But Maine’s tribes got a raw deal. Three of the four – the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, and the Maliseet — were recognized by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act in 1980, which restored their lands. But it also 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 tribe, the Aroostook, gained its status in 1991, three years too late for IGRA, which only applied to tribes that had been recognized at the time of its enactment.

The tribes have long demanded the same rights as other tribes in the country. They want to have the chance to operate gaming for their economic improvement, but it’s also a question of being able to exercise their sovereignty.

Racism Claim

Maine has two commercial casinos, the Oxford Casino and the Hollywood Casino Bangor. In 2003, state residents voted against an amendment to authorize tribal gaming by a margin of 2:1. But at the same public referendum, they approved a measure authorizing slot-machine gaming at the Bangor facility. The tribes claimed racial discrimination.

“It’s unfortunate the Governor opted to ignore the overwhelming support in the legislature,” said Aroostook Chief Charlie Peter-Paul in a statement on Wednesday.

“The tribes are merely asking to be able to determine their communities’ futures. They should have that right on their native lands. The legislature understands this. The people of Maine understand this. The Governor and the large corporate gaming operations in Maine clearly don’t.”

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