Maine Legislature to Hold Hearing for Tribal Gaming Proposal

Maine Legislature Tribal Gaming Proposal

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee of Maine will hear a proposal today that focuses on tribal gaming in the state.

Tribal gaming is a staple in many states across the US. Native American tribes have secured deals with state legislatures, signing compacts to be able to offer certain casino services within the state’s borders, on tribal lands. Many tribes have operated for decades, while others are still trying to get started. Maine is one such state in the US where tribal gaming operations are still being considered. A hearing this week within the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will focus on a new proposal to allow tribes to get started offering casino gaming.

A Tough Battle

In the past, there has been strong opposition against the effort, and this time around does not appear to be an exception. For this new proposal to work, a major change must occur in state law, and some lawmakers may not be supportive of the change.

It is expected that current commercial casinos in Maine will also be opposed. Right now, the state is home to the Oxford Casino & Hotel as well as the Hollywood Casino. Opponents of the idea feel that the gaming market in the region is saturated. They feel that adding tribal casinos to the equation will hurt the state’s economy where the commercial venues are located.

State law as it stands now does not allow tribes to use the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to make a request to add a casino on tribal lands. If this law were changed, then four tribes would be able to make the request in the state.

For the new bill, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians are showing their support. The tribe wants to see the bill pass into law so it can offer gaming in Aroostook County. Speaking during an online meeting, Maliseet Tribal Chief Clarissa Sabattis said that in general, the federal law applies to tribes across the US except for the four in Maine.

She pointed out that the settlement act, the federal laws do not apply to the tribes. Federal beneficial acts that would strengthen the tribe’s economic development, self-determination, and governments do not apply unless the lawmakers of the state explicitly state that it does, and this never happens.

The Southern Aroostook Development Corporation is also supportive of the measure. The economic development group is located in the area where the tribe would like to create a casino. Executive Director for the organization, Jon McLaughlin, says that he is not for or against a casino. However, he thinks the tribes in Maine should be given the same options as other Native Americans in the United States.

Other Attempts Have Failed

In the past, other attempts to allow Native Americans in Maine the right to offer casino gaming has failed. Back in 2018, the state Supreme Court decided not to rule on a case involving the tribe’s option to offer casino gaming legally without legislative approval.

Then in 2019, the two commercial casinos opposed a tribal gaming initiative. Local businesses were also dismissive of the option. At the same time, a Passamaquoddy tribal representative of legislature asked the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to allow a casino to be opened by tribes.

The continued argument seems to be that a tribal venue near the existing casinos would be damaging to their earnings. Perhaps a compromise could be reached where tribes can create a venue in areas away from the existing operations or make concessions to help support the properties if an economic issue occurs.

It seems for now, the new proposal will face a similar fight as other initiatives have in the past, with a small chance of moving forward.

Associate Writer: Geoff enjoys both live and online poker as well as casino games, and is particularly knowledgeable about the legal landscape of online gambling.