Maine State Representative Ben Collings has taken strides to maintain the prospect of tribal gambling in the legislative agenda, even as state lawmakers prepare to deliberate on a tribal sovereignty bill. This measure, set forth by the four-term Democrat, hails from Portland and comes as a response to the decades-long call from Native American tribes in Maine for the green light on tribal casino gambling.
Fostering Tribal Empowerment
Collings, who also has experience as a tribal consultant, voiced his view on the matter, stating, “Every session, I introduce a tribal gaming bill, leaving it to the tribes to determine their course. Gaming could yield substantial benefits for the tribes and the surrounding region, potentially amending the circumstances of Maine tribes. However, the priority remains sovereignty – sovereignty first.”
Struggling Sovereignty and Casino Licensing
An initiative to recognize the sovereignty of Maine’s tribes was unsuccessful last year, primarily due to a veto threat from Governor Janet Mills. This year, Collings has put forward a bill permitting federally recognized tribes in Maine to seek licenses for operating casinos on tribal and non-tribal land. The only caveat is that the license would not apply to Penobscot or Oxford counties, as they already host two licensed casinos in Maine.
Online Sports-Betting on the Horizon
Despite the prevailing issues, Maine tribes hold all the necessary rights to tap into the potentially lucrative online sports-betting market. However, they are in a holding pattern, pending the formulation of applicable rules by the state gambling commission. Several tribes, in anticipation of this opportunity, have already declared their intent to collaborate with Caesars Digital for their online sports betting operations.
“We are eagerly awaiting the finalization of online sports betting regulations by Maine’s gambling control board. The start date of our operations will depend on that,” asserted Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk E. Francis. “Our deal with Caesars ensures that the Tribes will receive guaranteed minimum payments annually once operations commence.”
Historical Stumbling Blocks
The last tribal gaming bill introduced by Collings in 2021 faced a significant setback due to a veto from Governor Mills. She expressed her concerns, arguing, “This bill lacks predictability or meaningful limitations on the locations of tribal gaming or the size of the facilities. The legislation could permit anything from a grand casino to a mere handful of slot machines.”
Future Outlook for Tribal Sovereignty
An additional concern for Maine tribes is sovereignty over gambling. The Legislature will soon consider a bill to grant the four federally recognized tribes in Maine – the Maliseets, Mi’kmaq, Penobscots, and Passamaquoddy – a level of sovereignty on par with that of 500 other tribes across the state, as per federal law. The question of tribal gaming, in the meanwhile, awaits deliberation before the House, ensuring the topic remains at the forefront of legislative discussion.
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