A bill that would hand a future mobile sports betting monopoly in Maine to the state’s four federally recognized tribes was comfortably approved by the state senate late Tuesday. The bill now wends its way to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D).
The legislation is about much more than sports betting. It affords the tribes certain sovereignty gains, including the removal of some state and income taxes within their territories.
Three of the four tribes, the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, and the Maliseet, were recognized by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 (MICSA), in which they agreed to be regulated like towns and cities. MISCA offered a restricted version of the sovereign rights enjoyed many tribes based in other states.
Missed Out on Gaming Rights
MISCA also stipulated that “any Federal law enacted after this Act for the benefit of Indians shall not apply with the State of Maine, unless such Act is specifically made applicable within such State.”
That means the tribes missed out on the gaming rights afforded to other tribes in the US by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA).
The fourth tribe, the Aroostook, gained recognition in 1991, three years too late for IGRA, which generally only applies to tribes that were already recognized at the time of its enactment.
Mills promised to improve relations between the state and the tribes during her election campaign. Nevertheless, she vetoed a sweeping sovereignty package that included gaming rights last year, calling it “flawed.”
The compromise measures contained in the most recent bill were negotiated between Mills and the tribes, which all but guarantees her signature.
The original version of the legislation would have frozen Maine’s two commercial casinos, the Oxford Casino and the Hollywood Casino and Raceway in Bangor, out of the sports betting market completely. But the casinos took umbrage and unleashed their lobbyists.
A late House amendment allowed the casinos two offer in-person betting at their properties and received the blessing of the tribes.
But the Penn National-owned Bangor casino still complained because the amendment would have only permitted sports betting at its nearby seasonal harness track. Meanwhile, the Oxford Casino, which has no racetrack, would be able to offer betting at the casino itself all year round.
The final version of the bill, passed by the Senate Tuesday, allows for a sports book at the Hollywood Casino.
The Maine Gambling Control Unit estimates 85% of all sports bets will be made via the tribes’ mobile operations once the market launches.
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