Hollywood Casino in Bangor on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Credit: Josh Kaufmann / BDN

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George McHale is a former chair of the Maine Gambling Control Board.  

Maine once again finds itself at a crossroads of gaming approvals, and without any common sense one thing is for sure: If the Legislature follows Gov. Janet Mills’ suggestion and passes LD 585 with the current gaming amendment, Maine will lose out.

The bill, An Act To Restore to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe the Authority To Exercise Jurisdiction under the Federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, is good in theory. It helps to repair the relationship between the tribes and the state through collaboration and tax relief for the tribes.

However, an amendment to the bill related to sports betting is short sighted and unfair.

The amendment, proposed by Mills, would allow the tribes to exclusively have access to new-to-Maine mobile sports betting licenses. This proposal shuts out Maine’s two brick-and-mortar casinos from the mobile sports betting business, despite the casinos’ years and years of economic impact, tax payments and hundreds of jobs for the Bangor and Oxford region and the entire state.

Sometimes it’s worth a look back to remind ourselves how much work went into what we currently have.

What we now know as Hollywood Casino started with a statewide referendum in 2003, followed by multiple local voter approvals by Bangor residents. These took time, education and effort for Mainers to trust in the plans for the state’s first gaming facility. Operated by Penn National, Hollywood Casino is a great community partner in Bangor, and Mainers have a well-proven operator for casino gaming. I believe these results were positive because of the process, education and homework done by voters and regulators.

Later, the Oxford Casino also started with a statewide vote. Narrowly squeaking out a victory in 2010, the developers behind the Oxford Casino spent a lot of time and effort on educating voters about their plans. Like Bangor, Oxford has a successful gaming operator that has provided numerous benefits to the region.

Now, we have an amendment to legislation that would hand over licenses for a new gaming product in Maine to organizations that have little experience in any type of gaming operation, let alone on a statewide scale. It also shuts out the very operators who had to jump through hoops and over hurdles just to get approved, then invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Maine before generating many more millions of dollars in tax revenue, all while continuing to be heavily regulated by the Maine Gaming Control Board.

This seems like an awfully crummy way for us to say “thanks for your business.”

Instead, the Legislature should simply move on existing legislation that currently sits on the five-yard line. LD 1352 allows the tribes to offer sports betting, in addition to the state’s licensed casinos and off-track-betting facilities. Lawmakers have already debated this bill and crafted a compromise rooted in fairness that would make Maine the 34th state to offer legal sports betting.  

It is common-sense legislation that both addresses the state’s relationship with the tribes and allows the state’s licensed gaming operators to offer another amenity for their customers. In addition to providing new revenues for the tribes, LD 1352 will also create jobs across the state and generate new tax revenue for veterans, Fund For A Healthy Maine, and the harness racing agriculture industries, among others, as intended when voters approved commercial gaming.    

The success of Maine’s gaming industry is rooted in common sense, and the addition of legal sports betting should be no different.