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House OKs bill to give Maine tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting market

Chris Sununu
Charles Krupa
AP file
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu shows his receipt after placing the first legal sports wagering bet on his mobile phone in Manchester, N.H., Dec. 30, 2019.

The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes could soon control a lucrative online sports betting market under a bill that received initial approval Friday in the Maine House.

The tribes have said the proposal is no substitute for a separate sovereignty bill, but they also say it will allow them some measure of economic self-determination.

The bill has been framed as a compromise between Gov. Janet Mills and the Wabanaki tribes after negotiations between the two sides stalled over a more sweeping effort to overhaul a 40-year settlement act.

Maine's Wabanaki tribes say the 1980 agreement has left them out of changes in federal law that have benefitted more than 500 other tribal nations across the U.S.

That includes the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which created a regulatory framework for tribal gaming, but not in Maine, where the settlement agreement made the pursuit of such enterprises contingent on voter or legislative approval.

House Democratic leader Michelle Dunphy, of Old Town, says the sports gaming bill would help correct that wrong and possibly improve the prosperity of the Penobscot tribe in her district.

"It will also, however, be another important step in a long journey over 500 years in the making," she says. "The journey of our communities transforming themselves from conquerors and occupiers among a proud people, to becoming neighbors."

Under the proposal, the tribes would gain access to the mobile sports betting market, while Hollywood Casino in Bangor could run in-person sports wagering at its nearby harness racing track.

Oxford Casino could do so at its gaming facility.

The House approved the proposal 81-53, while the Senate could vote on it next week.