AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee decided Monday to send a bill to allow casino gambling in western Maine to the full Legislature for debate, but also called for studies to establish a clear gambling policy for the state.
The Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee’s action addressed major gambling bills to come before the Legislature this year, but leaves them unresolved.
“It does conclude the battle, but it does not conclude the war,” said Sen. Nancy Sullivan, the committee’s co-chairman.
The panel deadlocked 5-5 on Rep. Sawin Millett’s bill to allow a casino in Oxford County, provided voters in the host town allow it. The split vote, which still leaves three committee members to weigh in, almost guarantees debate when the bill reaches the House and Senate.
But the committee voted unanimously to reject another bill by Rep. Donald Soctomah of Indian Township that would have allowed the operation of up to 100 slot machines on Passamaquoddy Tribe land on the days when the tribe offers high-stakes beano.
The committee also killed a bill that sought to allow slot machines at a casino in Oxford County.
Voters already have weighed in on expansion of gambling on both Passamaquoddy land and in Oxford County.
In November 2007, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have authorized the creation of a racetrack and casino on Passamaquoddy land in Washington County.
Last fall voters rejected a citizen-initiated referendum proposal to allow an Oxford County casino. But Millett has pointed out that the idea carried in western Maine counties and remains an economic development opportunity for a region hard-hit by job losses in wood products, textile and other industries.
The Waterford Republican’s bill requires the operator to pay 40 percent of gross gaming income to the state for economic development, transportation improvements, and for distribution to the host municipality.
Maine now has only one casino, Hollywood Slots in Bangor, which is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. and is tied to the commercial harness racetrack in the city.
Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee members gave a nod to Hollywood Slots officials on Monday when they recommended passage of a bill that would allow the facility to offer patrons noncash, promotional credits in its slot machines. Casino officials have said such promotional credits are marketing tools that are popular with slots players.
In other action Monday, the committee voted to carry over to next year’s session separate bills that call for a state-controlled casino and operation of video gaming terminals by nonprofit organizations.
Sullivan, D-Biddeford, said the committee hopes the bills will evolve into a state policy or “blueprint” so gambling issues won’t have to be addressed in a piecemeal fashion each session.
BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.