Maine is punting the idea of legal statewide online casinos to 2024.
A proposal to give Maine’s Native American tribes – known collectively as the Wabanaki Nations – the exclusive right to offer iGaming and mobile sports betting is one of 17 bills that the Joint Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs voted to carry over to the 2024 legislative session, which starts in January.
The bill (LD1777) has been tabled since the committee took the vote on May 22. It was filed a little more than a month ago on April 25, a few weeks into the legislature’s two-month special budget session in Augusta.
The legislation would be a landmark change in Maine, where there are no tribal casinos due to limitations placed under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. The decades-old law effectively excludes the state’s tribes from the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs tribal gaming in many other states.
Adding mobile sports betting to the proposal would be mostly a technical change. Mobile sports betting through the Wabanaki Nations is already legal in Maine under a 2022 state law, although a launch is expected to be at least six months away. That gives lawmakers time to add mobile sports betting to a definition of “internet gaming” that would cover both sports and online casinos, should the proposal pass next year.
Tribes would be allowed to partner with one operator for both mobile sports betting and iGaming under the bill, should a tribe intend to offer both.
Carryover Looks Likely
Maine Joint Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee co-chair Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, is the lead sponsor of LD1777. A primary co-sponsor is the committee’s Senate co-chair, Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop.
Hickman told the committee at its May 22 meeting that legislative leadership in the Senate and House could potentially deny a carryover for any of the 17 bills on the committee’s list. The committee would have to act in the current special session on bills that can’t be carried over to next year.
The special session ends on or around June 21 and, so far, the official bill status for LD1777 indicates no change.
“They still have the authority to say ‘no’ to any bill on our list,” Hickman said at the May 22 work session. “(If no) they would send it back to the committee, and we would have to take action on it.”
If that doesn’t happen, Hickman said, the committee will work on carryover bills throughout the summer to prepare them for consideration during the 2024 legislative session.
“We will continue working on these bills over the summer, and we can do all of the briefings we need to do on the subject matter,” he told the committee.
Online Casino A Big Revenue Maker
Online casinos would likely be lucrative for tribes should LD1777 become law. Revenue from online games like poker, roulette, and craps has the potential to dwarf that from sports betting.
“Online casinos are a massive growth opportunity for sportsbooks that can integrate the two,” wrote Gaming Today’s Chris Gerlacher in Dec. 2021.
Tribes already have the exclusive right to offer mobile sports betting in Maine since Aug. 2022, although a rollout has yet to happen. The 2022 law also authorizes up to 10 commercial retail sportsbooks – none of which have launched due to what is reportedly lackluster interest from sportsbooks and continued regulatory work.
According to Gaming Today, FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Fanatics are reportedly not going to apply for sports betting licenses in Maine. We reported on May 22 that Caesars Sportsbook is expected to launch in Maine when the state goes live.
It remains to be seen how Maine Gov. Janet Mills will approach LD1777 should it make it to the floor of the legislature next year. Although she agreed to mobile sports betting for tribes under state law, a June 1 article in the Portland Press Herald indicates her support may have limits when it comes to allowing tribes to benefit from federal law.