Maine Governor’s Tribal Betting Deal Progresses in Legislature

  • The governor’s proposal would see tribes getting exclusive control over online sports betting
  • Commercial casinos and off-track betting parlors would be able to offer retail betting
  • Tribes in Maine are looking for a greater level of sovereignty
  • The state’s 2022 legislative session comes to an end on Wednesday
Men cheering at smartphone
A bill is progressing in Maine that would give tribes the exclusive right to offer online sports betting. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A hopeful measure

A proposal from Maine Governor Janet Mills that would see tribes get control of the online sports betting market has progressed in the state legislature. The measure has been the subject of heavy lobbying efforts. 

The bill moved forward on Friday following an 81-53 vote in the House of Representatives. Both Democratic lawmakers and tribal leaders welcomed the vote as a major step forward. House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy is hopeful about the prospect of the bill and the prosperity that it could bring. 

tribes controlling the online side of the market

Under the proposal, online sports betting would become legal, with tribes controlling the online side of the market, which would represent approximately 85% of the total betting market. Off-track betting parlors and casinos would be the only properties able to offer retail sports betting.

Seeking more sovereignty 

The main area of focus to improve the relationship stems back to a land claims settlement from 1980 that gave tens of millions of dollars to the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribes in return for them being governed in a way that is more similar to regular towns rather than having all of the rights of a typical tribe. 

Two commercial casinos have received the all-clear to operate in Maine over the past couple of decades, but tribal efforts to also do so have always been unsuccessful.

The tribe claims that the 1980 agreement leaves them excluded from federal law changes that have benefitted tribes in other states. This includes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which set up the framework for tribal gaming. The settlement Maine’s tribes came to with the state in 1980 meant that tribes could not pursue gambling opportunities without getting legislative or voter approval.

Differences of opinion

Governor Mills has taken criticism from certain quarters for using sports betting as a way to bargain with the tribes. She bypassed a measure that got initial approval last year from the legislature that would have tied betting to off-track parlors and casinos. She also previously vetoed a bill that would have implemented something similar.

both of the chambers need to pass the exact same bill by Wednesday

There are some senators who want to include commercial casinos in the online market. Whatever happens, both of the chambers need to pass the exact same bill by Wednesday, as it is the final day of this year’s legislative session. 

Other measures that were a part of the wider-ranging sovereignty bill include a new form of tax relief for tribes, as well as a new consultation process regarding laws that would have an impact on tribes. Governor Mills is against the more expansive type of agreement, despite it already getting passing the Senate and House.