Governor Proposes Locking Casinos Out Of Online Sports Betting

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 18, 2022
Maine Amendment Could Give Tribes Exclusivity On Online Sports Betting

Maine lawmakers revealed a proposal to provide exclusivity on online sports betting to Native American tribes.

Discussed Thursday in the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary, the amendment would lock out the two commercial casinos in the state from offering online sports betting.

The language represents an agreement between Gov. Janet Mills and four federally recognized Maine Indian tribes: the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy. Collectively, they’re known as the Wabanaki Nations.

The proposal comes as a shock to Maine casinos. The casinos thought they had an agreement last year to involve everyone in the state’s new sports betting industry, including the tribes.

Each chamber of the legislature passed Legislative Digest 1352 in 2021. However, the legislature stalled the bill on the Appropriations Table, usually a procedural step on the way to the governor’s desk.

Details of new Maine sports betting proposal

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross offered the amendment to Legislative Digest 585 on behalf of the governor.

The amendment includes:

  • Facility sports betting licenses for seven off-track betting facilities.
  • Online sports betting licenses for four Indian tribes.
  • 10% tax on adjusted sports betting, with 1% to the Gambling Addiction Prevention and Treatment Fund and 1.5% split up between various horse racing industry funds.
  • A fee for an initial or renewed mobile sports betting license of $200,000. Licenses are valid for four years.
  • Management services license to manage sports betting on behalf of operator and supplier licenses cost $40,000 over four years.
  • A $4,000 fee for a four-year facility sports betting license.
  • Minimum age of 21 to bet on sports.
  • Bets are prohibited on injuries, penalties, and the outcome of player disciplinary rulings or replay reviews.
  • Wabanaki nations may offer any future forms of online gambling authorized in the state.

The bill also significantly changes state tax laws to treat the tribal nations as governments. They won’t be subject to state sales and income taxes on tribal lands. Instead, they would be able to collect sales tax to reinvest in their communities.

Jerry Reid, counsel to Gov. Mills said:

“Our group identified online sports wagering as a way for the tribes to benefit from gaming activity in Maine. This proposal would provide a significant economic opportunity that brings with it none of the controversy that has historically been associated with Maine casino development.”

Proposal meant to address gaming inequities for tribes

Indian tribes in Maine lack the sovereign rights and economic development opportunities permitted to tribes in most states.

The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 prohibited tribes from offering Indian gambling.

Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis recalled how his tribe previously offered slot machines. But they had to shut down as a result of the law.

In June of last year, Mills vetoed a bill passed by the legislature allowing the tribes to offer casino gambling.

The governor’s office and tribal leaders held discussions since the veto. Legislative Digest 585 represents the compromise from those negotiations.

Francis explained:

“We have consistently been told we could not have a casino because it would harm existing casinos like the one in Bangor. Allowing us to access the new market of online sports betting will not impact existing games at either facility. The Wabanaki nations worked hard to avoid any such negative impact on the existing casinos, which is why you do not have a proposal today which includes casinos for the tribes. And, believe me, that was on the table.”

Tribal members like the amendment, want more

Tribal leaders spoke in favor of the amendment while noting that it does not provide them sovereignty. Another bill being considered, LD 1626, would put Maine tribes on equal footing with others across the country who can self-govern within their territories.

While they’ve been repeatedly held out of casino gambling, tribes see a temporary solution in exclusivity for online gambling.

“I do know that there’s a real opportunity here in terms of at least having the exclusive ownership of this right to online mobile sports betting,” Francis said. “I think that’s a real opportunity for our communities.”

Michael-Corey Hinton, a Passamaquoddy attorney, added:

“The future of gaming in the world, but most certainly in the United States, lies in mobile gaming activities. This legislation recognizes that the way that Maine’s gaming industry has evolved has explicitly left out and discriminated against Native Americans. This legislation recognizes that inequity must be addressed and that the playing field can be leveled by providing significant opportunities to tribes to conduct economic development in ways that would specifically enhance rural communities in Maine.”

As for complaints from the state’s casinos, tribal representatives contended the majority of revenue from commercial casinos leaves the state.

Francis said:

“Nothing in this bill hurts any existing gaming casino. Online sports wagering may be a want, but it is not a need for those facilities. The existing casinos have their markets so the tribes will focus on the online market, and the off-track betting facilities, which include the one in Bangor, can focus on the facility sports betting. That is fair, and allowing the Wabanaki nations access to the new online market is fair. Allowing out-of-state corporations and existing facilities to have everything is not fair.”

Casinos seek answers on surprise amendment

Two voter-approved commercial casinos operate in Maine:

  • Hollywood Casino Bangor, owned by Penn National Gaming.
  • Oxford Casino Hotel, owned by Churchill Downs.

While they were pushing for LD 1352 to come off the Appropriations Table and head to the governor, they found out Mills has other ideas.

Casinos asked the committee to provide them with equal opportunity for sports betting. But tribal leaders pointed out they haven’t received equal opportunity when it comes to any other form of gambling.

John Williams of the Oxford Mills Chamber of Commerce, also representing Oxford Casino, said:

“This amendment circumvents the committee of jurisdiction, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, to institute a massive expansion of gaming in the state of Maine without any consideration for Maine’s existing casinos. Our problem with the bill and the amendment is that it cuts out any participation in sports wagering, both mobile and retail, for the casinos.”

Under the amendment, Hollywood Casino would get in-person sports betting because it has one of five OTBs operating in Maine. Oxford does not have an OTB and therefore could not have a retail sportsbook.

Under LD 1352, each OTB can have facility and online sports betting. So can horse racetracks, the casinos and tribes. Representatives of the other four OTBs warned they are unsustainable without online sports betting.

Jane Thornton of Winners OTB in Brunswick said:

“What I don’t understand is the bill that’s on the table already includes the tribal nation, includes the commercial tracks, includes the casinos, and keeps us all on an equal path. We are all treated equally, and isn’t that what we all strive for? The bill does include the tribal nations and allows OTBs to have online plus a facility. Just for the OTBs to have a retail place is not going to be viable.”

Lawmakers mixed on how to move forward

Sen. Joe Baldacci, whose district includes Bangor, said the amendment would harm the city.

“The solutions that we come forward with on issues like this should build unity and not create more division. The solution of arbitrarily shutting out Bangor and Oxford, and undermining the City of Bangor’s finances, is not a necessary step on the road to greater self-determination for our fellow citizens.”

Baldacci added that he fully supports LD 1626 and sovereignty for Maine’s tribes.

Rep. Benjamin Collings countered that it’s more than fair for tribes to get an advantage in online sports betting when they’ve only received a disadvantage in other gambling opportunities.

“I see no way at all in this market in Maine that the tribes having sports betting would do anything to hurt Bangor to the degree that would be exceptional. And I think Penn National is a very large, savvy national company that competes in many states. I have no doubt that they’ll be fine. If they feel somehow that they don’t want to do business anymore in the state, I know many people that would love to buy their [facility] and would do exceptionally well.”

Rep. Laura Libby echoed Williams in questioning why Judiciary was handling the issue of sports betting. Its members aren’t familiar with the topic. While the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has years of experience digesting the issue and previously passed a bill.

She asked for additional time to prepare for a workgroup session, which chair Sen. Anne Carney said would be the next step for LD 585.

Photo by Natallia Boroda /
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and

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