Federally recognized tribes in Maine have been offering online sports betting for about two months, and some state lawmakers now want to expand tribal rights to include all internet gambling, casinos, and electronic beano and harness racing.

Public hearings on three such proposals will be held Wednesday as lawmakers return to Augusta for the first day of the second regular session.

The bills were carried over from the previous session and will likely face resistance from Gov. Janet Mills, who has long opposed gambling measures but relented in 2022, negotiating and signing a bill that gave tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting. Mills’ aides did not respond to questions about whether the governor would consider expanded gambling.

The gambling proposals represent the latest front in the push for enhanced tribal sovereignty in Maine. The state’s tribal communities are treated more like municipalities than sovereign nations because of the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. But they have been working with community activists and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to win some of the same rights and opportunities extended to the nation’s other 570 federally recognized tribes.

Mills has voiced opposition to and vetoed sweeping efforts to restore comprehensive sovereignty rights and has preferred narrower changes to the 1980s agreement. She met with tribal leaders at the Blaine House in late November. Although the 3.5 hour summit didn’t result in any breakthroughs, the two sides agreed to work together this session – a change from the previous session when tribal leaders worked around the governor.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, has the backing of Democratic leadership, with Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, signing on as co-sponsors.


Supica’s bill, L.D. 1777, would allow federally recognized tribes to grow their internet gambling beyond sports betting to include other games of “skill or chance offered through the Internet in which an individual wagers money or something of monetary value for the opportunity to win money or something of monetary value.”

The bill would also reprioritize how the state uses its online gambling revenue. The state would continue to receive 10% of the adjusted gross receipts, but lawmakers would have less discretion over its uses.

Currently, 65% of the revenue goes to the General Fund while the state’s Sire Stakes Fund and the Maine Harness Racing Commission each receive 5.5%. But Supica’s proposal would allocate 40% to the state’s E-9-1-1 Fund to support the emergency communications system, 20% to the Opioid Use Disorder Prevention and Treatment Fund and 20% to the Emergency Housing Relief Fund.

The state would continue to receive 10% each for its administrative services and for its Gambling Addiction Prevention and Treatment Fund.

Like the current online sports betting law, the bill would grant tribes exclusive access to licenses for online gambling through the Gambling Control unit in the Department of Public Safety.

Supica said she sponsored the bill at the request of lobbyists working on behalf of the tribes and said it would increase investments in public services, while supporting economic development for the tribes and the surrounding rural communities.


“I don’t see this as an irresponsible policy that’s going to cannibalize our services,” said Supica, whose district includes Hollywood Casino. “I think it’s something that could be very good for our services, especially in central and northern Maine where we are really economically depressed.”

The measure is opposed by Steve Silver, chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board, who argued that licenses should not be limited to tribes and raised concerns about the proposal’s impact on the 19 groups that received more than $69 million in revenue in 2022 from the state’s two casinos, which could lose business as a result of the bill.

Silver said in written testimony that the current proposal could result in the loss of about $2.4 million for public education and other services. And the law’s broad definition of internet gambling could impact other businesses that offer sweepstakes, including online trivia, soda bottle promotions and the Maine Lottery’s second chance drawings.

“Maine absolutely should consider legalizing Internet Gaming (“iGaming”),” Silver said. “Overall, LD 1777 needs more modification before moving forward. I urge you to adopt an open, free-market approach that includes the Tribes and the casinos while also reconsidering the proposed taxation and regulatory model.”

Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, is sponsoring two bills to expand tribal gambling rights, including a bill similar to one previously vetoed by Mills that would allow tribes to operate a casino.

L.D. 1944 would require the state to negotiate with one or more tribes interested in establishing a casino on tribal lands. The state may also negotiate with all of the federally recognized tribes for a casino on nontribal land in any county besides Penobscot or Oxford counties, which already have casinos.

And L.D. 1992 would allow electronic beano terminals and historical horse racing terminals to be operated by federally recognized tribes, off-track betting facilities, commercial tracks, slot machine facilities and casinos. That bill calls for 10% of the net revenue from electronic beano machines or a “historical horse racing terminal” to be directed to the state.

Online sports betting launched in November, with Caesars Sportsbook partnering with the Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaq Nation, and Draftkings partnering with the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

Through Dec. 28, Mainers have made nearly $76 million in wagers and have received $67.5 million back in winnings, while the state has received about $887,000 in tax revenue. Draftkings currently dominates the market, accounting for nearly $61 million of the total wagers.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story