Last Thursday the Maine House voted 114-26 in favor of a bill that would see at least one of four indigenous tribes open a casino in Aroostook or Washington counties. This Monday the Senate blocked the bill, as it similarly did last year.
The bill was crafted in the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and would have created a competitive bidding process that ultimately would have been decided by the level of benefit the four federally recognized tribes would have received from a successful casino bid.
The issue could face more votes but at least three Senators would need to be swayed assuming no abstaining votes. Houlton Band of Maliseets tribesman and Representative, Henry John Bear sees hope in the narrow defeat. “I’ll be hopeful that maybe we can work an amendment and that we can find something that’s acceptable to the Senate,” said Bear.
Bear is the sole remaining tribal rep as in May both the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes removed their representatives from the Legislature. The move was in protest of what the tribes called a lack of respect for tribal sovereignty. The Penobscot’s first sent a representative in 1823 and the Passamaquoddy’s in 1842.
Maliseet Indians Tribal Chief Brenda Commander lamented the lack of progress on Wednesday, recalling the reasons two of the tribes left their advisory roles in the Legislature. Fishing resources were the major sticking point that precipitated their departure earlier this year, however judicial jurisdiction and environmental standards have also been sticking points in productive relations. This is the first time in nearly two centuries the tribes have not been part of the legislative process. The state’s tribal reps can introduce legislation and sit on committees but aren’t allowed to vote.
LD 1280, another casino bill allowing gambling in York or Cumberland county, is awaiting debate in both houses. That proposal does not involve the state’s tribes. Last year the Senate laid waste to six casino bills in a single day – three of them would have been of benefit to the tribes. The state’s two existing casinos would likely oppose this bill as well unless it offers concessions such as tax breaks to them.