AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of a legislative committee signaled their support Monday for Maine’s participation in the multistate Mega Millions lottery as a way to generate additional revenue.
But lawmakers on the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee delayed votes on several controversial gambling-related issues, including whether to allow table games at Hollywood Slots or to authorize the bingo-like electronic game “Keno” in Maine.
Committee members voted unanimously to allow Maine State Lottery to join the more than 30 other states that participate in Mega Millions, the nation’s largest jackpot lottery. The Mega Millions proposal faces additional votes in the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee as well as in the full Legislature, however.
If Maine were to join by May, the state could receive approximately $250,000 in revenue through June 30, which marks the end of the current fiscal year. Annual revenues expected to flow into state coffers from Mega Millions were estimated at $1.5 million.
Committee members endorsed expanding Maine’s lottery offerings as a way to blunt deep cuts as part of lawmakers’ attempts to trim $438 million from the budget. The committee is especially concerned about a proposal to eliminate the executive director position within the Gambling Control Board.
In a presentation last week to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee said weakening the board that oversees gambling at Hollywood Slots in Bangor would be “irresponsible public policy.”
Since its creation in 2005, the Gambling Control Board has shrunk from a staff of 10 to six despite the fact that Hollywood Slots has grown. The board consumes less than 5 percent of the revenues the state receives from the racino.
“Considering the value of proper oversight of the racino, this is a small expense,” the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee wrote to their colleagues on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “It would be careless of this Legislature to do anything that would compromise or leave vulnerable this significant revenue stream.”
Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said Monday she agreed to go along with the Mega Millions proposal as long as part of the $250,000 generated this fiscal year goes to maintaining the executive director position within the Gambling Control Board. The position is currently held by former Bangor Police Deputy Chief Robert Welch.
Other lawmakers agreed, and the committee plans to include language to that effect in the recommendations it will present to the Appropriations Committee likely later this week.
The committee also discussed a proposal to allow table games, such as blackjack and poker, at Hollywood Slots in order to generate additional revenue for the state. But the lawmakers deferred a vote on the issue.
One potential hang-up is whether such a proposal would conflict with a ballot initiative, scheduled for this November, for a resort and casino in Oxford County. Lawmakers are barred from acting on any legislation that could compete or conflict with a pending referendum.
Public safety Commissioner Anne Jordan also warned the committee that table games are much more labor-intensive to monitor than slot machines because of the potential for fraud or abuse. That would likely necessitate additional expenditures on the state’s end, she said.
“We will need lots of bodies on the floor,” Jordan said. “It cannot be done on existing resources, so we have to be cautious about that.”
Another proposal under consideration would permit Keno in the state. A cross between a lottery drawing and bingo, Keno typically has drawings multiple times an hour and can be played in bars, restaurants or other venues.
Committee members debated allowing nonprofit organizations, such as veterans groups, to offer Keno as a way to raise money. Some organizations have been struggling ever since the state police began cracking down on video poker machines that offer players cash prizes, which are illegal in Maine.
Nonprofit organizations licensed to offer games of chance, such as bingo or raffles, currently collect roughly $10.5 million in proceeds from those games. Keno would be another way for groups — and therefore the state — to earn additional money.
“Personally, I don’t think it addresses the issue, but I think it might be a step forward,” said Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx, D-Brunswick.
Another bill seeks to permit video poker games for nonprofits. Other lawmakers pointed out that Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, might be more willing to authorize Keno games than to allow video poker in the state.
The committee is expected to take up the issues again on Wednesday.