Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, (left) talks with a constituent outside the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor as primary voters enter on July 14, 2020. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of Maine lawmakers are trying to stop a sports betting compromise between Gov. Janet Mills and tribes by advancing a rival version that would cut casinos in on the nascent mobile betting market.

The effort, which includes Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, an ally of the Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway in his home city, was immediately panned by a top tribal official who argued casinos would dominate the market and sharply cut in on revenue that will benefit the tribes.

It could complicate late State House discussions on the thorny issues of gaming and tribal sovereignty. Initial votes are expected on the Democratic governor’s version by the end of the week. Lawmakers set to leave Augusta for the year on Wednesday.

Mills started her Blaine House tenure in 2019 by pledging to improve state-tribal relations. It led to tribes and their allies advancing a sweeping push to overhaul a 1980s land-claims settlement that largely relegates them to the status of cities and towns. The governor has largely opposed that effort, but the sports betting deal emerged in February from ongoing talks.

The governor’s compromise with tribes would legalize sports betting in Maine and hand the mobile side to the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes. Maine’s casinos and off-track betting parlors would be allowed to run the in-person side of the business.

In an outline of the Mills-backed bill that was unveiled in February, casinos in Bangor and Oxford were cut out of sports betting entirely. The updated version allows the Oxford Casino to run in-person betting, while the Bangor casino owned by Penn National Gaming would only be able to allow at its seasonal Bass Park raceway. Hollywood has led opposition to the plan.

Baldacci, a top casino ally, and two gaming committee lawmakers will roll out a rival measure on Thursday that is based on a sports betting bill that won initial approval in the Legislature last year. It would allow both casinos and tribes to apply for mobile betting licenses while reserving 6 percent of all gross mobile revenue for the tribes, the Bangor senator said.

That could eventually amount to $3 million annually split between the tribes, Baldacci said. While he said he backs tribal sovereignty efforts except for gaming because of Bangor’s financial ties to the casino, he criticized the process that led to the Mills-tribal deal.

“I think we could have reached a better result … if we had been included, but I just honestly think that this would be a better deal in the long run,” he said.

Spokespeople for Mills did not immediately respond to questions on that proposal. Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation said the attempt was “not a compromise” but an attempt to change the bill in a way that would lead Hollywood’s parent to dominate the Maine mobile market with a platform it has developed in partnership with Barstool Sports.

Francis noted the deal with Mills came out of hard-fought negotiations over sovereignty after Maine voters and lawmakers rejected several attempts at allowing tribes to establish casinos over the past two decades and that passing it remains a top tribal priority.

“This is something that the tribes feel like, on a minimal level, can allow us to participate in gaming in Maine that we’re authorized to do under federal law, but are blocked from doing it,” he said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...