Bill to allow tribal gaming heads to governor

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Native American tribes have been trying for decades to be allowed to operate a gaming casino, but those efforts have always been rejected, whether by lawmakers, a governor or by voters. 

On Thursday, the Legislature gave final passage to a bill that would allow the Maine tribes the same rights most other tribes in the country have under federal law, which would let them open a casino on tribal land. The tribes are currently bound by state law, under the requirements of the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claim Settlement.

Rep. Ben Collings of Portland sponsored the bill this year, which now has been sent to Governor Mills to sign or veto.

“What we are trying to do here,” Collings said, “is have Maine have the right to negotiates with the tribes for a gaming right that virtually every tribe in the country has.”

He said that right dates back to the law passed by Congress in 1988, giving tribes the right to operate gambling on their own lands, which led to the development of many casinos around the country. 

He said the law was to help the tribes, many of which struggled financially. 

“To give tribes gaming rights to help tribes in mostly remote, rural areas to do casino gambling as a form of economic development. The tribes in Maine haven’t had that right and been asking for that right since 1988.”

Collings said if the bill becomes law there would not be an immediate opening of casinos. Instead, the state would begin negotiations with tribes that want to operate a casino, and work out an agreement on where and how it would be developed and managed.

Maine’s current casinos have detailed agreements with the state for sharing profits with a variety of interests, and a portion of proceeds from the Oxford Casino even go to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes.

The four tribes have said they should have the same rights as other tribes in the country, both for economic improvement and as an important part of regaining more tribal sovereignty.

Governor Mills now has 10 days to decide whether to sign, the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.