Maine Senate approves tribal rights deal allowing sports betting at Bangor Casino

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AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate late Tuesday approved a bill by Gov. Janet Mills that would give tribes control of a new sports betting market after an amendment would have allowed in-person betting at a Bangor casino.

The 23-11 vote effectively ensured the measure would go to the Democratic governor for signature. It’s on track to make the biggest overhaul of the state-tribe relationship in 2022, as Mills still opposes a tribal-preferred sweeping sovereignty measure.

It’s still an important step for the tribes in their bid to renegotiate the terms of a 1980s land claim settlement, in which the tribes accepted tens of millions of dollars in exchange for being regulated like cities and towns. Other US tribes enjoy sweeping rights in areas of politics, including gambling, an industry from which they have been largely barred in Maine.

All Senate Democrats and only two Republicans — Sens. Marianne Moore of Calais and Kim Rosen of Bucksport — supported the measure. This group included Senator Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, who had worked against previous versions of the Mills Compromise, which gave Bangor’s Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway a reduced role in the new market. It’s awaiting funding from the legislature before going to the governor.

“This policy decision is fair and just,” said Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee that negotiated the law.

Under the measure, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes will control mobile sports betting, which the state estimates will account for 85 percent of the total market. Personal wagers would be allowed in casinos and betting shops off the circuit. It would make Maine one of the majority states to have legalized sports betting since 2018.

While the betting portion was the most important and most lobbyed part of the bill, Mills also made other concessions to the tribes in the measure, including tax breaks for the three tribes and a consultation process with the state about policies that would affect them.

The original version of the Mills-Tribal Compromise would have banned casinos from sports betting entirely, which enraged their lobbyists in Augusta. Penn National Gaming, the owner of Bangor Casino, led the charge against a later version that would have only allowed wagering at its seasonal racetrack at nearby Bass Park. The current version allows betting in the casino.

Baldacci was among a group of lawmakers who have lobbied for competing measures in recent days, though he prioritized changes in favor of Bangor casino, while others fretted over Mills-led negotiations that trumped a sports betting measure originally dated Legislators approved it in 2021, but it has languished without funding ever since.

“I just think there’s a part of this whole thing in the process that we’ve ignored,” Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, who sits on the games committee, said on the floor.

It is among a trio of active tribal rights statutes still active in the closing days of the 2022 legislature. On Tuesday, lawmakers recalled a measure from Mill’s desk that would give the Passamaquoddy tribe in Sipayik control of its water source to make changes aimed at winning the governor’s approval. This version was sent back to her at the end of the day.

It is among a trio of active tribal rights statutes still active in the closing days of the 2022 legislature. On Tuesday, lawmakers recalled a measure from Mill’s desk that would give the Passamaquoddy tribe in Sipayik control of its water source to make changes aimed at winning the governor’s approval. This version was sent back to her at the end of the day.

Mills has not been swayed by the greater offer of tribal sovereignty, which would give tribes the right to control policies ranging from taxation to sports to the natural resources on their lands. It was initially approved by the Democratic-led Legislature but is awaiting funding for now.

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