Lawmakers Agree to Draft Report on State’s Casinos

The state Legislature has been shuffling the deck for years in an effort to expand gaming opportunities that include the state’s Indian tribes.

At the State House Monday, a legislative committee agreed to draft a report for incoming lawmakers to guide their discussion on future gambling venues. But one state senator isn’t waiting for the memo.

The report, which was authorized by the Legislature, could set the stage for a new discussion around creation of two more casinos, one in southern Maine and another that would benefit the state’s Indian tribes. But as Democratic State Sen. John Patrick of Rumford warned members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, reaching an agreement that will pass muster with the Legislature and the governor’s office will be a challenge:

“There’s no right and there’s no wrong answer; it’s the answer that we’re going to be able to come together on for the betterment of the people of the state of Maine,” Patrick says.

By endorsing the conclusions of a $150,000 state-authorized study from the New Jersey-based WhiteSand Gaming company, Patrick and other lawmakers see an opportunity for an expansion of commercial gambling beyond the two casinos now operating in Oxford and Bangor. State Rep. Jonathan Kinney, a Limington Republican, says WhiteSand’s findings seem credible to legislators he has spoken to.

“The state could afford it in that the casinos would be able to sustain themselves in the gambling industry,” Kinney says.

The memo was sent as a nonbinding piece of guidance for the future members of the committee, who have not yet been determined. Kinney says he wants to make sure that the successful bidder for any future gaming operation delivers what is promised. That’s something that he says hasn’t happened at the Oxford Casino.

“I don’t see any lodging, I don’t see any nightly entertainment, I don’t see any retail shops associated with that casino — all I see is a casino,” Kinney says.

While the WhiteSand study is supportive of a small tribal casino in Washington or Aroostook County, it doesn’t specify whether that means one facility or two even smaller gambling enterprises in each county. Those ventures would serve the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy tribes, but do not address concerns voiced by the Penobscot Indian Nation, whose high stakes Beano games have suffered as the result of direct competition from the nearby Hollywood Casino in Bangor. Penobscot Tribal Representative Wayne Mitchell vowed to oppose any effort that did not include consideration for his tribe.

“I’ve got two more years left in this Legislature and then I retire — and I’m looking forward to that day — but I’ve got enough fight left in me for this next two years,” Michell says. “Look out Hollywood Slots.”

State Sen. Linda Valentino, a Saco Democrat, plans to submit a request for a bill later this month that would lay the foundation for three more gaming facilities. Valentino says she’d make the case for a facility in southern Maine and for smaller operations in Aroostook and Washington counties. And she says the state could still meet its cap for 3,500 slot machines by distributing them proportionately.

“Why don’t we tie these casinos in other zones to maybe 250 slot machines in the Washington County zone, or the Aroostook County zone and maybe a 1,000 down to York County,” Valentino said.

Valentino says her proposal would not call for a statewide vote on each casino but would instead limit balloting to voters within each proposed region to discourage regional rivalries.