AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of statewide gaming bills that have been bouncing between procedural life and death in the Legislature died for good Thursday at the hands of the Senate.
The six bills, which include three proposals to allow the state’s Native American tribes to expand gaming, have been the subject of disagreement between the House and Senate in recent weeks. The Senate rejected them on March 19 and the House tried to revive them a day later.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to uphold its previous rejections despite pleas from some lawmakers to clear the way for the bills by instituting a statewide gaming policy, the lack of which has been cited repeatedly as a reason for some senators’ opposition.
Thursday’s votes were final; all of the bills are effectively dead for the current legislative session. Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, attempted to have the Senate recede from its previous votes on each bill and set up a conference committee to amend them, but none of Tuttle’s motions garnered more than 15 votes of support from the 35-member Senate. Subsequent motions by Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to reaffirm the Senate’s previous rejections of the bills, passed unanimously without roll call votes.
Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, said she had a workable plan which she developed in recent days.
“I thought the Legislature was going to come together behind a comprehensive plan,” said Valentino during Senate debate on Thursday. “I have a plan. I have spreadsheets. … This is the best bill before us.”
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said he and other Republicans support developing a statewide policy but it can’t be rushed.
“I firmly believe that we need to have a study to tell us what our comprehensive plan should be,” he said. “In Maine we have the cart way before the horse.”
The bills killed on Thursday include LD 31, which would have allowed up to five slot machines at nonprofit fraternal or veterans organizations where local voters approved them; LD 227, which 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; LD 519, which would have allowed off-track betting facilities to conduct advance-deposit wagering for horse racing; LD 1111, which 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, which would have allowed the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to apply to build a casino on the North Road property without a statewide referendum; and LD 1520, which would have allowed the Passamaquoddy Tribe to operate slot machines at a gaming facility in Washington County.
Rep. Madonna Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy tribal representative to the Legislature, tried to force the issue of developing a statewide gaming plan Thursday afternoon when she proposed a bill titled “An Act to Impose a Moratorium on the Operation of Casinos and Table Games in the State until the Adoption by the State of a Comprehensive Plan for Gaming.”
The bill, which was unanimously rejected by the 10 legislative leaders who sit on the Legislative Council, sought to cease all casino operations in Maine until a plan is implemented.