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Maine

Often overlooked (unless you are a fan of Stephen King novels), Maine is the northernmost state on the East Coast, and may not seem like an attractive destination for gamblers. But that has been changing in recent years, as lawmakers have decided to get on board with casinos and other gambling options in order to grab their piece of the New England market rather than see their residents travel to spend their dollars in other states.

That doesn’t mean that Maine will become the next hotspot for Internet casinos anytime soon. But it’s certainly a positive sign, and the overall makeup of the state suggests it’s certainly possible that more expansions could come here in the future.

Online Games Unregulated

Like most states, Maine has no real regulations in place when it comes to online gaming. There have been a few discussions of the topic in the state – in particular, in 2012, when the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee had a relatively positive talk on the subject – but there hasn’t been any real movement to put together a workable bill that could put a licensing system in place.

Still, Maine exists as a grey market for much of the online casino industry. There are plenty of overseas companies that are happy to offer their games to residents. That means many people in the state play at Internet gaming sites for real money every day, with no repercussions and the same chance to win prizes as anyone else. The only restriction is the software as none of the Vegas slot games are available for money online.

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After Lottery, A Long Wait

Maine’s casino history is rather young, but in other ways, it was a relatively early adopter in the American gaming community. In 1973, lawmakers pushed forward with a bill that would establish a state lottery, and voters were quick to signal their approval of the measure that same year. By the summer of 1974, the first drawings had been held, and gambling was officially a part of the state government. While it was originally a relatively small operation with modest jackpots of under $1 million, today’s lottery includes millions in prize money, including access to interstate contests like Powerball.

It wouldn’t be until 2004, however, for casino gaming to be a part of the mix. At that time, voters approved slot machine parlors, and legislation was passed allowing for up to two potential venues to be opened. Only one was ultimately approved locally and built: the Hollywood Slots facility in Bangor.

A much larger expansion took place in 2010, when Maine voters narrowly approved a casino in Oxford County. The vote was extremely close, even prompting a recount; however, the margin was ultimately decisive, with about 50.4% of the electorate supporting the proposal.

That led to the opening of the Oxford Casino in 2012. Operated by Churchill Downs, it is a relatively small establishment, with fewer than 1,000 slots and only 22 table games. The same law also led to the evolution of the existing slots facility into a full-scale “racino,” which is now known as Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway Bangor.

Native American Casinos Could Be Contentious Issue

Maine’s gaming industry is relatively small, but that makes sense: after all, the state has a low population, so there are limits to just how many venues it could support. But that’s not to say that there aren’t still debates happening over what options should be available.

Perhaps the most contentious debate occurring as of late is over the potential for the Native American tribes to open their own resort-style casinos. There are four federally-recognized tribes in Maine, and they would like to build a casino in one of the state’s northern counties.

Unfortunately, bills that would have allowed them to do so have been shot down by the state legislature on multiple occasions over the last two years. On each occasion, the House approved the bill, only to watch the Senate reject the same proposal. In a June 2015 vote, the margin was razor-tight: the Senate voted only 18-16 to reject the proposal.

Understandably, these rejections have been discouraging for the tribes. In fact, two of the groups – the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe – have removed their representatives from the state legislature over the feeling that they have been left out of the decision making process.

Many state representatives and tribal leaders say that the process has been frustrating. Even the bills that have come close to passing are a bit more complex than they want. The latest bill would have created a competitive bidding process. While the tribes just want to build on their own lands – there are those who oppose the Indian gaming expansion. Not surprisingly, the existing casinos are part of that group, and believe that even tribal facilities should require approvals from state and local voters, just as their venues were subjected to.

These issues are (reasonably so) much more pressing than any attempts to regulate online gambling, which means that Maine isn’t high up on the list of places where you should expect to see licensed Internet casinos in the near future. However, the long term prospects do seem much brighter. There are no large-scale objections to iGaming in general, and at least the state has talked a bit about the prospect of expanding online. Consider this a long-term target for regulation, but not one that will be picking up the mantle of states like Nevada and NJ anytime soon.

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