After years of opposition to sports betting in Maine, Governor Janet Mills’ administration is supporting a proposed sports betting bill. This amendment would grant tribes exclusivity over sports betting.

  • After years of preventing the progression of legal sports betting in Maine, Governor Janet Mills’ administration is backing a new proposal that would grant tribes a monopoly on sports betting.
  • According to the proposal, there would be four online sports betting licenses available, which would be reserved solely for tribal operators.

AUGUSTA, Maine – In the past, Governor Janet Mills was widely considered the most significant obstacle standing in the way of legal sports betting in Maine.

However, legal sports betting seems to be gaining favor with the governor after her administration went on-record with their support for an amendment to L.D. 585.

This bill includes a provision that would allow Maine’s native tribes to offer both land-based and mobile sportsbooks.

Bill Proposes Amendment To Indian Claims Act Of 1980

The proposed amendment to L.D. 585 was born out of extended deliberations between Mills’ administration and representatives from the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and the Houlton Band of Maliseets.

The discussions were centered on ways to restore sovereignty to Maine’s tribal entities – the group came up with a set of reforms that varied in scope; however, the sports betting provision, if instituted, would likely prove to be the most consequential of the measures over time.

The proposal would grant Maine’s tribes a state-enforced monopoly on sports betting.

Mills’ support for this aspect of the proposal comes as a surprise, especially considering her administration’s stated opposition to L.D. 1626  in the past.

This bill would have reevaluated Maine’s tribal relations and left the door open for tribes to launch their own sportsbooks under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Under L.D. 1626 tribes would have a similar monopoly over sports betting in Maine.

Last week, Mills’ Chief Legal Counsel Jerry Reid published a lengthy op-ed in the Bangor Daily News voicing the administration’s opposition to L.D. 1626.

Mills Administration Changes Tune

The sports betting market that would have been formed with the passage of L.D. 1626 would have likely been tribal-only, with the tribes permitted to offer both land-based and online sportsbooks in Maine.

Under the proposed amendment – sponsored by House leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) – the tribes would be granted exclusive access to the four available mobile sports betting licenses.

Michael-Corey Hinton, attorney for the Passamaquoddy tribe, told Maine Public Radio that this provision would go a long way towards correcting some of the inequalities Maine has imposed on their native tribes – chief among these is the Maine Indian Claims Act of 1980,  which served as an across-the-board prohibition on gaming imposed on Maine’s native tribes.

“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,” said Hinton.

If enacted, the amendment would bring Maine’s tribes onto a more even playing field with the over 500 tribes that are recognized by the federal government.

While the gaming provision would certainly be a step in the right direction for Maine’s tribes, it is just one part of the tribe’s desired changes to the 1980 Settlement Act. Unfortunately for the tribes, it seems these changes will not be made without a fight.

Commercial Interests Lobbying Against Bill

Chris Jackson, a lobbyist for the Hollywood Casino in Bangor, told Maine Public Radio “To be candid, we find this bill to be a little bit of a head-scratcher.”

According to Jackson, this bill would sabotage a separate sports betting bill currently being considered by the Maine legislature. That bill, L.D. 1352,  would legalize and regulate sports betting as well; however, it would open up the market to both tribal and commercial operators.

L.D. 1352 was designed as a compromise of sorts, intended to satisfy both commercial and tribal interests.

As a result, Maine’s two operational commercial casinos – the Hollywood Casino in Bangor and the Oxford Casino – voiced their opposition to the new proposal and their support for L.D. 1352 during a hearing for the bill last Thursday.

Off-track betting facilities, which would be granted the opportunity to apply for sports betting licenses under L.D. 1352 but would be left out of the fold under the new proposal, similarly voiced their opposition to the latter on Thursday. Sports Betting Alliance, a conglomerate representing established commercial sportsbooks such as FanDuel and DraftKings, also testified against the bill.

The bill is expected to be revisited for a workshop session within the next few weeks. With the interests of Maine’s tribes and the interests of established commercial sports betting operators clashing, Maine could be shaping up for a significant sports betting battle.

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