Awaiting The Fate Of Bill Pushing Tribal Control Over Maine Online Gaming

Written By Derek Helling on January 4, 2024
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Gamblers in Maine are now enjoying legal online sports betting and it could prove to be a template for other forms of regulated online gambling in the future. A slew of legislation aims to give Maine’s tribal authorities similar control over gambling on a larger scale.

There are potential obstacles to enshrining near-total tribal control over gaming in Maine. However, the majority party leadership in the state’s legislature seems to support that premise.

That doesn’t mean every member of the party is toeing that line, though.

Bills to expand tribal control over Maine gaming

During the 2023 session, Maine Rep. Laura Supica filed LD 1777, which extends Maine’s federally recognized tribes’ control over gaming to include all forms of online gambling. That would, in theory, include real-money online casinos.

Sen. Troy Jackson and Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross have joined Supica as co-sponsors of the legislation. Jackson is the president of the Maine Senate while Talbot Ross is the speaker of the Maine House, making their support crucial.

Despite those endorsements, the future of this bill is unclear. According to a Portland Press Herald news story by Randy Billings, some influential voices like the chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Unit oppose giving tribes exclusive control over all online gambling.

Billings reports that that chairman, Steve Silver, wrote that would result in lost revenue for the state. While Silver is not opposed to legalizing online casino play, he endorses that idea, he would prefer Maine to do so in a more open way that includes potential commercial operators.

Silver isn’t alone in his opposition to the premise of expanding tribal control. Another important figure in Maine’s government could also prove to be a roadblock. That could apply to other similar legislation regarding gambling in Maine, too.

Mills could stand between tribes and more gambling

LD 1777 isn’t the only piece of legislation before the Maine assembly right now. LD 1944 and LD 1992 also would expand opportunities for federally recognized tribes in Maine when it comes to gambling. Those bills involve in-person play of several kinds like beano, historical horse racing, and slots.

Billings reports that Maine Gov. Janet Mills has already vetoed a bill similar to LD 1944. That could signal potential resistance to similar legislation if it should reach her desk.

To further support that conclusion, Mills has generally opposed broad changes to the existing agreements between Maine and federally recognized tribes living within the state in the past.

At the same time, Billings adds that Mills held a summit with tribal leaders near the end of 2023 and agreed to work with them in the new year. If these bills reach her desk, it would be an opportunity to show her commitment to doing so.

If Mills should buck the trends of her support for tribal control over gambling, future online casinos in Maine could strongly resemble the framework of legal online sports betting.

Mainers could have few options for legal online casino play

So far, Maine sports bettors have access to two legal online sportsbooks, Caesars and DraftKings. Because the law gives the tribal groups exclusivity when it comes to that form of online gambling, Caesars and DraftKings had to “meet their price” to enter the state.

That could be a reason why relatively few online gambling companies showed interest in Maine sports betting compared to other states. Tribal exclusivity over online casino play could have a similar effect depending on the terms the tribes set.

At the same time, revenue from sports betting is a pittance compared to what gambling companies rake from online casino play. That difference alone could drive interest regardless of what the tribes ask for in exchange for a path into Maine.

Moreover, tribal gaming leaders know that they stand to collect more revenue as well if they partner with an established and popular online casino operator versus building their product. To a certain degree, it allows the tribal authorities to just sit back and collect the checks.

All of that is currently hypothetical depending on the fate of LD 1777. A public hearing on the bill was cut short Wednesday because of a bomb threat. The events of this year in Augusta will show how ready the state is for more tribal gaming.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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