Maine iGaming Bill Would Allow Online Poker -- But Faces Uphill Battle Maine iGaming Bill Would Allow Online Poker -- But Faces Uphill Battle

It is my personal belief that adult Mainers should be free to enjoy legal, regulated gaming in all its forms. A bill under consideration in Maine that would allow four federally recognized tribes to offer online casino gaming would also allow the tribes to offer online poker.

But the bill, LD 1777, faces an uncertain future.

For starters, in its current form, it would only allow the tribes to offer online poker — specifically, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Mi’kmaq Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Penobscot Nation. Two commercial casinos in the state, Oxford Casino Hotel and Hollywood Casino & Raceway Bangor, are currently excluded.

That could prove to be a non-starter, judging by some of the public comments that were filed — and by who was making them.

“Cutting out Oxford and Hollywood casinos entirely from offering igaming is ill-advised in my opinion,” Steve Silver, chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board, said in written testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which held a public hearing on LD 1777 on January 3.

Silver made clear that while “Maine absolutely should consider legalizing igaming,” he added that “LD 1777 should not pass as currently written.”

“It is my personal belief that adult Mainers should be free to enjoy legal, regulated gaming in all its forms. But I also believe that any qualified operator should have the ability to obtain an igaming license, including the Wabanaki Nations,” Silver wrote in earlier comments.

The governor might also be opposed to the idea, according to the Portland Press Herald. The newspaper reminded readers that Democratic Governor Janet Mills had initially opposed plans to give the tribes a monopoly on mobile sports betting, but eventually relented — suggesting Mills might not go along with the tribes having a monopoly for online casino and poker, too.

Such an expansion is a sensitive issue in Maine. While the four tribes are recognized by the federal government, they are also subject to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement, a controversial 1980 statute that allows the state to regulate tribal affairs — including gaming.

It could be a big ask. Consider the tribes just launched their monopoly for mobile sports betting little more than two months ago.

The state is also authorized to issue 10 licenses for retail sportsbooks at commercial casinos, racetracks, and OTB facilities in the state. That includes Oxford and Hollywood.

Mills’ aides did not indicate whether she supports LD 1777, the newspaper reported.

Critics derided LD 1777 for not being too different from the bill that authorized sports betting. LD 1777 calls for expanding the definition of “internet gaming” to include online casino gaming, which would be taxed at 10%.

Poker is included since the bill also defines internet gaming as “a game of skill or chance offered through the internet in which an individual wagers money or something of monetary value for the opportunity to win money or something of monetary value.”

Fantasy contests and parimutuel wagering would be illegal. Under LD 1777, online casino operators would pay $200,000 for a four-year license and for any renewals.

LD 1777 has its supporters, too. “Tribal governments must be able to create greater economic development on tribal lands — period,” wrote House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland). “The bills in front of you today are solutions to begin fixing the problem.”

Ross was referring to two additional gaming bills that, along with LD 1777, House lawmakers had decided to delay taking action on last July. Rep. Laura Supica (D-Bangor) introduced LD 1777 last April.

Maine has a quirky legislative setup — it has two separate sessions for every legislative year, with the first session beginning on the first Wednesday of December and the second starting on the first Tuesday of the following January. This year, those dates were December 6, 2023, and January 2, respectively. The Maine State Legislature will adjourn on April 17.

The Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs will resume discussion of LD 1777 (and the other two bills) at a public hearing at 1 pm on Wednesday.

No Language for Multi-State Poker

LD 1777 is structured similar to the bill that authorized sports betting — it gives the tribes the option of either running their own online casino and poker operations or partnering with a third-party platform operator. Such an operator would pay a $40,000 fee for a license good for four years.

In its current form, the bill doesn’t appear to set a limit on the number of operators that a tribe can partner with. That will likely change as LD 1777 goes through the revision process.

Lawmakers may want to consider adding language to the bill to allow for multi-state poker — though the bill doesn’t expressly prohibit it, either. Maine should consider joining a multi-state gaming compact for poker like the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), which currently includes Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

Since Maine is a small state in terms of population — it ranks 43rd, with 1.4 million residents — membership in MSIGA would prove essential to helping the game get established in the state and to grow. Bills in Maryland and Illinois, both still live for 2024, have explicit language that permit cross-border play.

One online poker operator that could be interested in Maine is WSOP USA. That’s because Caesars Sportsbook is already live in the state, through partnerships with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Mi’kmaq Nation, and Penobscot Nation. Caesars also owns WSOP.