Senate passes table games bill

Posted June 14, 2011, at 9:16 p.m.
Last modified June 15, 2011, at 9:23 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Hollywood Slots in Bangor moved a step closer Tuesday to expanding its gambling offerings after the Maine Senate approved legislation that would allow the facility to add table games such as poker and blackjack.

The measure already passed in the Maine House last week but needs to go back there for an additional vote and then requires the governor’s signature and local voter approval.

Still, support in both legislative chambers likely means good news for the state’s first gambling facility.

“This bill would put into place guidelines for a facility that’s already licensed,” said Sen. Nichi Farnham, who represents Bangor. “In the past we’ve been very reactive [to gambling]. This allows us to get out front.”

LD 1418, sponsored by Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, passed in an 83-61 vote in the House with a last-minute amendment attached. The amendment would have required an additional 2 percent in table game revenue to go to the Penobscot Indian Nation to help offset substantial losses the tribe has seen at its high stakes bingo operation since Hollywood Slots opened.

Before Tuesday’s 21-12 vote in the Senate, Farnham made a motion to indefinitely postpone an amendment to the table games bill that was added in the House last week. That amendment passed.

As written, LD 1418 divides 16 percent of net income from table games among the following: 9 percent to the general fund, 3 percent to a dedicated administrative expenses account for the Gambling Control Board, 2 percent to the host municipality and 2 percent to a fund to benefit charitable nonprofit organizations whose gaming revenue has been negatively affected by slot machine and table game operation.

The revenue division is similar to what was approved for a casino in Oxford County that was authorized by Maine voters last fall. LD 1418 stipulates that Hollywood Slots cannot officially operate table games before the Oxford County casino or any other gambling facility.

According to the fiscal note accompanying the bill, Hollywood Slots will pay an initial $100,000 fee to operate each table game for 20 years. With 12 to 14 tables planned for the facility, that would mean up to $1.4 million headed to the general fund. The company also would pay a $1,000 annual fee to renew the license for each table game.

Sen. John Patrick tried to introduce an amendment Tuesday that would reduce the fee to $50,000 for 10 years because he worried that table games and their accompanying revenue are unknowns in Maine.

After 10 years, the state could adjust the fee as needed, Patrick said.

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, who worked on the bill when it went through the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said a lot of thought was given to the fee structure.

That amendment failed.

Gov. Paul LePage has indicated he plans to sign the bill into law, but it still requires that Bangor voters also sign off on any effort to add table games at the state’s only slots facility. City Manager Catherline Conlow said that vote would happen in November.

In the wake of a May 4 vote in which 75 percent of Bangor residents who voted supported a plan to build a $65 million arena and convention center across the street from Hollywood Slots, Bangor is hopeful residents will support table games.

“Whether you like it or not, Maine is a gambling state,” Plowman said Tuesday. “The only thing we haven’t done is set [clear] public policy.”

With other gambling proposals in Lewiston, Biddeford and on tribal lands in Washington County likely headed for statewide referendum votes in November, Farnham agreed that the legislature is going to need to set clearer policy going forward.

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