Proposed Expansion of Tribal Gaming in Maine Sparks Legislative Action

Two months after federally recognized tribes in Maine launched online sports betting, lawmakers in the state have announced public hearings on expanding tribal rights to include other forms of gambling. The hearings, set to take place in Augusta on January 3, 2024, will focus on three proposals that would allow tribal operations to include online gambling, casinos, beano terminals, and horse racing.

The proposals come on the heels of a 2022 gambling bill that permitted more than 570 federally recognized Native American tribes to operate sports betting in the state, despite opposition from Gov. Janet Mills. The tribes managed to include the gambling proposal in the scope of their sovereignty rights, working with community activists and lawmakers to push the bill through.

One of the main bill proposals, L.D.1777, sponsored by lawmakers including Rep. Laura Supica, Senate President Troy Jackson, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, would expand internet gambling to include games of skill or chance offered through the internet in which individuals wager money or something of monetary value. The bill also outlines the distribution of tax revenue, with a proposed 40% going to the state’s E-9-1-1 Fund, 20% to the Opioid Use Disorder Prevention and Treatment Fund, and 20% to the Emergency Housing Relief Fund.

In addition to economic support for the tribes and communities, the bill proposes that the state continue to receive 10% for administrative services and problem gaming programs. However, Steve Silver, chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board, opposes the bill, arguing that it would negatively impact the state’s existing casinos.

Two other bill proposals, L.D.1944 and L.D.1992, complement the Supica’s measure. L.D.1944 would allow the state to negotiate casino developments on tribal and non-tribal lands, while L.D.1992 would permit federally recognized tribes to operate electronic beano terminals and horse racing, with the 10% gaming tax remaining in place.

The expansion proposals come after the tribes launched online sports betting in November 2023, generating significant tax revenue for the state. The market recorded a $76 million handle by December 28, 2023, generating $887,000 in tax revenue. These figures seem to have propelled the current lawmakers’ activities in pursuing further expansion of tribal gaming rights.