The Maine House on Wednesday gave its initial approval to a plan to allow table games such as poker at Hollywood Slots in Bangor.
The bill, LD 1418, now moves to the Senate for debate.
Even if the Senate approves the plan and Gov. Paul LePage signs the bill into law, the bill requires that Bangor voters also sign off on any effort to add table games at the state’s only slots facility.
Supporters of the bill have expressed high hopes for a win at the local polls, however, citing a recent vote in which 75 percent of Bangor residents supported a plan to build a $65 million arena and convention center across the street from Hollywood Slots.
During Wednesday’s House debate, Rep. Doug Damon, a Bangor Republican and the bill’s sponsor, told his fellow representatives that Hollywood Slots’ presence in Bangor has been beneficial and it should be allowed to expand its offerings.
“It started with a lot of unknowns and trepidation, but it has proven to be a boon for the city and the state,” Damon said, citing initial concerns about an increase in crime as a result of the gambling facility opening in the city. “None of the concerns or fears we worried about are manifesting themselves.”
After a short debate, House members voted 83-61 in favor of the plan.
Hollywood Slots will pay for the privilege of likely being the first in the state to offer table games — such as poker, craps, blackjack and roulette. 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.
The bill would divide 16 percent of the 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.
An amendment adopted on the House floor on Wednesday also requires an additional 2 percent to go to the Penobscot Indian Nation. Rep. Wayne Mitchell, who represents the tribe in the Legislature, told his fellow lawmakers that the money — which he estimated at about $106,000 annually — would help offset the substantial losses his tribe has seen at its high stakes bingo operation since the opening of Hollywood Slots.
“All we’re asking for is a fair shake,” Mitchell said.
LePage administration officials have indicated that the governor likely would not veto the plan to add table games at the existing facility in Bangor if a local vote was mandated in the bill.
That’s not the case with efforts to expand gambling to other parts of the state, however. LePage this week said he would veto efforts to open gambling facilities in Lewiston, Biddeford and tribal lands in Washington County unless they were sent out to a statewide referendum.