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Maine Online Casino Bill Appears Headed Toward Final Passage After Committee Advancement

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
Maine statehouse

Maine online casino is part of a trio of gaming bills ready for floor votes in the Maine Senate and House.

Maine Gambling Control Board Chair Steve Silver told PlayUSA he expects the legislature to pass the Maine online casino bill this month.

“If I had to put money on it, I think it comes out of the legislature and then the question is what does the governor do,” Silver said. “That I don’t know.”

On Monday, the Maine Joint Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee reported LD1777 as do pass as amended with a 7-6 vote. The bill provides internet gaming exclusivity to Indian tribes in Maine.

The committee had already reported out historical horse racing bill LD1992 and and electronic pull-tab bill LD2213. By passing through the joint committee, the bills are ready for the floor in both chambers.

Each bill could move quickly to a floor vote. Maine’s legislative session ends April 17, though there is already talk about an extension to complete the state budget.

Maine legislature’s attempt to boost tribes

Maine has four federally recognized Indian tribes: the MaliseetMicmacPenobscot and Passamaquoddy. Collectively, they’re known as the Wabanaki Nations. The tribes accepted a bad deal in 1980 by giving up their sovereignty to be subject to laws and jurisdictions of the state in the Maine Land Claims Settlement Act.

As a result, the tribes cannot offer Class III tribal gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Gov. Janet Mills vetoed legislation in 2021 to allow casino gaming on tribal lands.

Since then, the legislature has been looking for ways to support the tribes without giving them full sovereignty. In 2021, the legislature passed a bill giving tribes exclusivity over online sports betting. Maine online sports betting launched last November through Caesars and DraftKings.

Maine’s two commercial casinos, Hollywood Casino operated by Penn Entertainment in Bangor and Oxford Casino operated by Churchill Downs, were allowed brick-and-mortar sportsbooks that have yet to open.

Now, even though they can’t offer physical casino gaming, tribes could get exclusivity over Maine online casino gaming.

Maine online casino bill excludes commercial casinos

Now the legislature is looking to cut casinos out of iCasino as well, which Silver finds problematic.

“I will never support a bill that is going to cut out the casinos. We only have two casinos in Maine and they deliver quite a few tax dollars to the state each year. We already cut them out of mobile sports betting and now we’re going to cut them out of iGaming. That just seems crazy to me. If the legislature wants to legalize iGaming, I’m all for it. But why are we cutting out casinos? No one is giving me a clear answer on that.”

The Gambling Control Board oversees commercial casinos. The casinos produced a total tax impact of $86 million in 2023. Much of that revenue goes to support education and the community college system. Silver fears they would lose money if iGaming is implemented without the casinos.

“A whole bunch of beneficiaries in the state stand to lose money. Maine is a very unique state. With fewer than one million adults, it’s a geographically sparse state so it’s a real undertaking to go to one of the two casinos. That leads me to believe there will be people who don’t go to the casino if they can use the mobile version.”

The committee set the online casino tax rate at 16%, which could undermine the financial viability of brick-and-mortar casinos, leading to revenue losses and job cuts.

Maine casinos pay a 16% tax rate for table games. However, the slot tax rate is much higher. Hollywood Casino pays 40% on and Oxford pays 47%.

Rep. Laura Supica, who sponsors LD1777, actually represents the Bangor area. So many of her constituents work at Hollywood Casino and could be affected.

Details of Maine gaming expansion package

Maine Indian tribes support all three parts of the gaming expansion package.

In addition to online casino exclusivity, historical horse racing and electronic pull-tab allotments would give the tribes the opportunity to offer slot-like machines on tribal lands.

LD1992 authorizes up to 800 HHR machines for tribes and 450 additional machines for a racino and off-track betting parlors. Their 25% tax rate would also be well lower than slots at commercial casinos.

“I don’t think anybody in that committee really understands what HHR machines are,” Silver said. “Maybe someone showed them a video once. Put these in and, for the consumer experience, they are the same as a slot machine. The bill allows tribes to lease unused machines to another licensee. So they can band together and put 600 machines in Portland if they wanted to. Don’t you think that would just knock out Oxford casino? How can they compete with that?”

LD2213 permits tribes to offer 400 e-pull tab machines. However, the real proliferation is with nonprofit organizations throughout the state. Beano parlors and veteran halls in every town in Maine will get e-pull tabs that also operate similarly to slot machines.

This has the potential to create 50,000 e-pull tabs across Maine, a state where they don’t exist today in a gray market.

Such an expansion greatly concerns Penn Entertainment, according to Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs and government relations.

“These bills represent a massive expansion of gambling that, if passed, would open up Maine to as many slot machines as found on the Las Vegas Strip.”

Governor veto of Maine online casino bill a real possibility

The Maine online casino bill is co-sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, setting it up for likely passage in each chamber.

“I can see this passing because it’s built on tribal rights and tribal sovereignty, and certainly the Democratic legislature is supportive of that,” Silver said.

On the floor, lawmakers could still offer an amendment to include the casinos in iGaming. But Silver said he thinks that is unlikely at this point.

“There could be floor amendments but that’s a substantial change. I would assume the vote would be on something very similar to what came out of committee.”

Mills has vetoed gaming bills in the past, including the sports betting bill in 2020, and she might do so again here.

When Mills vetoed the tribal casino bill, she mentioned that the Gaming Control Board estimated the diversion of business away from the two casinos would reduce state revenue by $17 million annually. Silver says that the Gaming Control Board has similar concerns with these bills.

If Mills does veto the legislation, the legislature could overturn her veto with a two-thirds vote. But it’s not typical for a legislature controlled by one political party to overturn a veto by a governor of the same party.

“Historically, we have been so slow to expand gaming here,” Silver said. “Now that they are going to do everything left at once, will the governor actually sign that if it happens? I know that those close to her are not supportive of this. I think iGaming by itself had a stronger position.”

Follow the progress of the Maine online casino bill and legislation in other states with our online casino bill tracker.

Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP photo
Matthew Kredell Avatar
Written by
Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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