Maine Sports Betting Fight Likely to Bleed Into 2023, as Entities Remain At Odds

The Maine sports betting effort became cloudier this week after state Sen. Joseph Baldacci (D-Bangor) introduced an amendment to the governor’s proposed arrangement with the state’s four Native American tribes.

Maine sports betting tribes casinos
Maine sports betting tribes casinos
Maine Governor Janet Mills speaks at a press event on April 7, 2022. The governor’s sports betting plans with the state’s native tribes hit a potential roadblock this week in the State Legislature. (Image: Bangor Daily News)

Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) pledged to improve tribal relations with the four Wabanaki tribes after she took office in 2019. Part of that goal includes the governor’s wishes to predominantly afford sports betting privileges to the natives.

Maine’s two casinos — Hollywood Casino Hotel at Bangor Raceway and Oxford Casino Hotel — naturally oppose Mills’ plan. Many state lawmakers do as well.

Mills’ sports betting bill LD 585 would reserve mobile sports betting operations to the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy people, who are collectively known as the Wabanaki “People of the Dawnland.” LD 585, however, would allow the two casinos to operate in-person sports betting.

The casinos are seeking full sports betting privileges with retail and online operations. Baldacci’s LD 585 amendment introduced yesterday would do just that, but require that 6% of the total mobile sportsbook revenue — regardless of whether a casino or tribe handles the business — goes to the tribes.

“We want to have this a win-win,” Baldacci said. “We’re not looking to create divisions.”

Divisions Created

The tribes and Mills’ office were quick to retort to the sports betting amendment. They said allowing the casinos to participate in online sportsbook operations would cut into their tribal economic sovereignty, something that Maine lawmakers have interfered with for many years.

“This tribal bill is about trying to overcome decades of issues around access to gaming by tribes,” Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said in a statement to WMTW News 8. “This was a negotiated bill with the Governor’s office, and we tried to be as inclusive as possible.

This amendment will basically render the bill meaningless for the tribes. This is a tribal bill that is attempted to be hijacked by the casinos,” Francis concluded.

Mobile sports betting is the preferred method of wagering for sports bettors in states where in-person and online books are permitted to operate.

In New Jersey, for example, which was the richest sports betting state prior to New York authorizing mobile sportsbooks, of the $10.93 billion bet last year, $9.95 billion was wagered over the internet. That equates to 91% of the action being bet remotely within the state.

2023 Passage

Maine’s sports betting market would be much smaller than New Jersey. Maine ranks No. 43 of the 50 states in population with just 1.35 million people.

But the stakes are still high for those involved. And with the Maine State Legislature set to adjourn for 2022 next Wednesday, April 20, the odds are increasingly long that sports betting will be legalized this year.

Maine’s lone US neighbor — New Hampshire — is one of the more than 30 states in the nation that has legalized sports betting. Since New Hampshire does not have commercial or tribal casinos, its sports betting market is conducted mostly online. However, the state has authorized as many as 10 retail sports betting locations that the New Hampshire Lottery operates in conjunction with its sportsbook partner DraftKings.

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