Bill allowing tribes to offer online sports betting becomes law
Gov. Janet Mills signed into law on Monday a bill that adds Maine to the list of states that have legalized sports gambling and that gives Wabanaki tribes exclusive access to the booming online betting market.
The bill, LD 585, was part of a trio of measures that were a high priority for tribal leaders during the 2022 legislative session. The new law gives the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians exclusive rights to launch online or mobile platforms where Maine residents can place bets on athletic events. In-person betting will be allowed at Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Oxford Casino, as well as at off-track betting parlors around the state. But online platforms account for the vast majority of sports betting nationwide.
The Mills administration negotiated with tribal leaders on the bill, which also exempts the tribes from some taxation and seeks to improve state-and-tribal collaboration on policy issues. A controversial 1980 agreement has prevented the four federally recognized tribes in Maine – the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Mi’kmaq Nation – from opening casinos or other gambling ventures like other tribes across the country.
“This law provides meaningful economic opportunities for the Wabanaki Nations,” Mills said in a statement. “It incentivizes investment in Tribal communities, and it formalizes a collaboration process on policy that sets the foundation for a stronger relationship in the future,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I am proud of the work that the Wabanaki Nations and the State put into drafting this legislation, and I am grateful for the honest effort, the extensive research and the hundreds of hours of negotiations and discussions which bore fruit in this bill. We will continue to work closely with the Tribes to make progress for the Wabanaki people.”
Although tribal leaders have predicted that LD 585 will open up new economic opportunities to their communities and surrounding areas, they have also made clear that the bill is not a substitute for the more sweeping sovereignty measure that Mills has vowed to veto. That larger bill, LD 1626, is currently stalled in the Legislature because supporters lack the two-thirds majorities needed to override an all-but-guaranteed veto by Mills. The governor has raised concerns that the effort to overhaul that 1980 agreement could lead to more uncertainty and lawsuits, not less.
Tribal leaders said last week that it is up to lawmakers to decide whether to pass the bill during a May 9 meeting and send it to the governor’s desk – a scenario that seems unlikely, given the promised veto and the political dynamics in Augusta. But chiefs of the Wabanaki Nations said the groundswell of support for the sovereignty bill, as well as passage of LD 585 and another bill allowing the Passamaquoddy Tribe to regulate its own drinking water source, represented progress on longstanding issues.
“We sincerely appreciate the good faith dialogue and negotiations with the Governor that resulted in these bills,” the tribal leaders said in the joint statement. “Neither of those bills represent sovereignty for all Wabanaki Nations and people in Maine, but each does provide important benefits that will strengthen our respective communities. We are going to continue to push for our sovereignty regardless of the outcome on L.D. 1626, and we acknowledge that this process now rests with state government and is out of our hands. Our ancestors made sacrifices so we could be here today, and it is our sacred duty to continue to press for full restoration and recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty. We look forward to continuing this work with all of our partners and allies.”