AUGUSTA, Maine — The Senate slammed the door on six bills Thursday night that involved the expansion of casinos and gaming, including three that would have have allowed more gaming opportunities for Maine’s Native American tribes.
The other rejected bills would have expanded the use of slot machines for fraternal organizations and harness racing opportunities.
R. Clayton Cleaves, chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s Pleasant Point community, reacted to the votes with fury. He said it’s hypocritical for Maine to allow the lottery but not tribal gaming facilities.
“It’s not fair, in my opinion,” Cleaves said after the votes. “Native Americans were the first ones in [with gaming proposals]. This is not about fairness. It’s about race, color and creed. … We’re just trying to get jobs on our reservations, just like everyone else in this state.”
All three bills involving the tribes were indefinitely postponed in the Senate. Though they face further House votes, the Senate’s action Wednesday night likely killed the bills.
Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, pleaded with her colleagues not to vote against the bills until she and others had a chance to develop a statewide gaming policy, the lack of which was at the root of many senators’ opposition.
“It’s not too late to cobble together a comprehensive plan based on what is existing and what is being proposed,” said Valentino. “I am here to say we don’t need another task force. We don’t need another blue ribbon commission. We don’t need another study group to take up this issue. We need to take action and we need to fix this bill. … If we don’t, this issue will be here this year and the year after and the year after.”
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, opposed all six bills for various reasons, chief among them the lack of a statewide gaming plan. Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, agreed.
“Before we move forward we should do so cautiously and judiciously,” said Cushing. “We want to establish the proper policy before we once again open the doors to creating potential challenges in our state.”
Joseph Socobasin, the Passamaquoddy chief at Indian Point, said that’s no excuse and that the tribes have come forward several times over the past two decades with statewide gaming initiatives.
“They’ve had more than enough time to come up with a strategy or policy to address that,” said Socobasin. “What more can we do? If that’s part of the reason for voting it down tonight, we’re not satisfied with that being a reason to deny us yet again.”
Some senators said their votes weren’t based on casino policy.
“I don’t know anything about gambling but I do know about poverty and I know about living in a rural area where it’s very, very difficult to be employed,” said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston. “It must be difficult for the Maliseets or members of any other tribe to have to depend on the Legislature or any other body when they want to do any kind of development.”
Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Houlton, agreed.
“Aroostook County is a massive area that no one seems to visit anymore,” Sherman said during debate on a bill to allow the Houlton Band of Maliseets to create a casino. “This is probably not the best economic development but it gives some people help if the tribe can develop this.”
— LD 31, An Act to Increase Gaming Opportunities for Charitable Fraternal and Veterans’ Organizations, failed by a vote of 23-11. It would have allowed up to five slot machines at nonprofit fraternal or veterans organizations where local voters approved them.
— LD 227, An Act Concerning High Stakes Beano, was indefinitely postponed 24-10. It would have allowed the Penobscot Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs to operate high-stakes electronic beano games. The bill passed through the House on a 74-16 vote earlier this month.
— LD 519, An Act to Establish Advance Deposit Wagering for Harness Racing, was indefinitely postponed with a 29-5 vote. It would have allowed off-track betting facilities to conduct advance-deposit wagering for horse racing.
— LD 1111, An Act to Allow Maine’s Harness Racing Industry to Compete with Casino Gambling, was indefinitely postponed with a 20-14 vote. The bill would have reduced the restrictions for commercial harness racing tracks to install slot machines and increased the number of slot machines allowed in Maine from the current limit of 3,000 to 4,500.
— LD 1298, An Act to Authorize the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to Operate a Casino in Aroostook County, was indefinitely postponed with a 19-15 vote. The bill would have allowed the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to apply to build a casino on the North Road property without a statewide referendum.
– LD 1520, An Act to Allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe to Operate Slot Machines in Washington County in Conjunction with High-stakes Beano, was indefinitely postponed by a 19-15 vote. It would have allowed the Passamaquoddy Tribe to operate slot machines at a gaming facility in Washington County.
Sun Journal State Politics Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.